On Feb. 1 the Salt Lake City School Board will again debate the issue of keeping six elementary schools on a year-round school calendar. The district superintendent suggests dropping the experiment as it's not helping academically yet, costing the district more money in operational costs. Nevertheless, the debate continues. Let's look at the facts.
Of the district's elementary year-round schools, only half made Adequate Yearly Progress last year — a federal government requirement. Eighty percent of the traditional calendar elementary schools made Adequate Yearly Progress.
According to the superintendent, it costs $128,000 more just in busing expenses to keep the schools operating under the year-round calendar. If we took this savings from busing, we could offer students more than 20,000 small-group tutoring hours during the school year. Small-group tutoring is a proven way to increase academic performance. Shouldn't we invest in a sure thing rather than continuing to throw good money at a bad program?
Not only are year-round schools costing more for busing, but also we can't forget that year-round schools are more expensive to cool than campuses following the traditional schedule. According to the National Climatic Data Center, it's more than 300 times more expensive to cool schools in August than October and March — the months when year-round schools are closed for half the month.
Wouldn't it be wiser to use tax dollars for programs that are proving helpful to students' academic success and not continue to throw money at a failing program because it was "promised" to do something?
Academic research clearly supports the notion that the school calendar configuration does not impact academic performance. What's important are quality teachers, instructional materials available to the teachers, the quality of educational programming and the involvement of parents.
One reason year-round calendar proponents say the district should keep the more costly schedule is that students don't forget as much as during the long summer break. Not true, says research by Ohio State University Professor Paul von Hippel.
Von Hippel's research showed that regardless of the calendar configuration, students spend the same amount of time reviewing "forgotten" material during each 12 month learning cycle. Students attending a traditional nine-month school spend the bulk of their review time at the beginning of the school year while students on the year-round calendar spend time reviewing after each break. Von Hippel's research found no academic difference between the two calendars. After all, students attend the same number of school days and follow the same curriculum regardless of the school calendar.
A real plus not practical with a year-round schedule is students can use traditional summer breaks to gain work experience, to take specialized courses or remedial tutoring, to learn swimming, practice music, study the arts or just for family time and vacations, all of which shape a student's character.
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Our children are our most valuable asset. We must use our limited education dollars to provide them with programs proven to aid academic success. The bottom line is simple: Calendars do not teach children. That credit belongs to our talented teachers, our involved parents and our hardworking students.
Let's end the debate and refocus our energies into identifying programs that have a proven track record and will help our students succeed. We owe our children nothing less.
Boyd F. Jensen is a former member of the Utah State Board of Education.