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The Politics & Marketing of Year-Round School

Susan Notes:

Posted here is the first part of Billee Bussard's extensive analysis of Year-Round schooling. For the rest of the story go to her website

By Billee A. Bussard

(November 18, 2009 - AUTHOR'S NOTE: This paper was presented to the Florida Political Science Association in March 2003 as then Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was threatening to place Florida schools on a year-round calendar. The author has decided to make this research public because of the misguided efforts by President Obama's Education Secretary to use calendar change as a means to improve education outcomes. As this paper documents, 100 years of experimenting shows using a year-round school calendar provides no significant educational or economic benefit. Paragraphs highlighted in red provide particularly insightful information that should be helpful to school officials who will be pressured to consider school calendar change and media looking at this issue. The author is aware that some of the links to references may no longer be available on the Internet, but be assured they were available at the time this paper was written as part of an independent study under the guidance of Dr. Henry Thomas, then Political Science Department chair at the University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL. An updated version of this paper is in progress will be produced sometime in 2010.)

This paper is copyrighted, and may not be reproduced or distributed without permission of the author. The paper and its contents may, however, be cited. Some of the research in this paper will be published in a future book. Send inquiries to bussardre@aol.com or call (904) 249-2468.

1. Introduction/Overview

Public school financial problems will be exacerbated and education quality will be compromised if Florida policymakers use a year-round calendar, as Gov. Jeb Bush has proposed, to respond to voter mandates passed November 2002 for class size reduction and expanded preschool. Ample evidence for this conclusion is found in academic research, media accounts, and lawsuits now working their way through the courts.

School calendar reconfiguration has been marketed to policymakers for 100 years as the most cost-efficient means of using and expanding school building space. Year-round school is also pitched as an academic remedy. But these claims run counter to experiences across the nation--especially during the last 30 years--and especially with the multi-track year-round school calendar.

The multi-track year-round calendar expands school building capacity by placing children in the same school on different schedules and rotating a segment of the student body out of classrooms to make room for a segment returning from vacation. The 10- to 12-week summer break of the typical 180-day traditional school year is replaced with shorter, more frequent breaks throughout the year and a short summer vacation. School capacity can be extended up to 50 percent, depending on the calendar used. With some calendar plans, such as the Concept 6, a third of the students get no summer vacation break.[1] Children in the same families are sometimes assigned different vacation schedules.[2] Some version of a year-round calendar is also used when school districts extend the traditional school year by two weeks or more.

Post-election, Gov. Bush floated the multi-track year-round calendar as a possible response to the class size reduction amendment he strongly opposed, then made it part of his final plan to address voter wishes.[3] Rather than find money to build new classrooms, the governor made the year-round calendar one of the required options for districts that do not meet the two-per-year reduction in average class size beginning next year.[4]

Meeting the mandates without funds to build new classrooms is expected to plunge many Florida school districts into a facilities crisis they have been teetering on for years due to decades of rapid population growth and school reform edicts that gobbled up classrooms. Just incorporating technology into the classroom, as commanded in 1983 in A Nation At Risk, [5] is estimated to consume as much as 25 percent of school facility space.[6] âThe size of the standard classroom needs to increase another 25 percent to incorporate new technology into everyday instruction,â Education Week reported in 1996,[7] citing a U.S. Government Accounting Office study.[8]

While this paper focuses on the multi-track calendar proposed by Gov. Bush, it also makes note of detriments common to both multi-track and single-track year-round calendars.

Single-track year-round school keeps all students on the same vacation schedule but shortens the summer break and places children in classrooms in the hottest months of the year. Implementation of a single-track calendar often precedes an incremental implementation of a multi-track calendar in many school districts faced with rapid growth and fund shortages. Single-track calendars are marketed under a dozen various labels, among them: modified calendar, balanced calendar, flexible calendar, and continuous learning calendar.

A consistent complaint in media, school district and research reports[9] from around the country is that a year-round calendar--both the multi-track and single-track versions--narrows the window of opportunity for busy, modern-day families to schedule vacations together.

Thomas Payne, as director of year-round education for the California Department of Education, said the year-round calendar "has the potential to break the family apart."[10]

This paper examines the politics and marketing of the year-round calendar that swayed so many business and political leaders in the 20th century, including Florida's policymakers, that school calendar reconfiguration was prudent public policy. In doing so, this paper:

  • Provides a brief summary of evidence that counters claims of the year-round calendar's academic, financial and other benefits.

  • Visits the year-round school experience in California, which has housed the lionâs share of the nation's year-round schools for decades.[11]

  • Provides an overview of the history of the year-round school movement and circumstances leading to its revival in early 1970.

  • Contrasts the rhetoric and reality of year-round school experiments and other information cited in federal, state and other reports produced over the last 30 years.

  • A brief review of the political constituency that supports or profits from a reconfigured school year is discussed in the concluding remarks.

  • This research with its retrospective look at the year-round school movement should give policymakers in the 21st century pause about adopting a school facilities and education reform whose origins date back to horse-and-buggy days.

    1.1 - Mounting Evidence Against Year-Round School Calendar

    Some of the most recent and most dramatic evidence of the failure of the multi-track year-round calendar as a public policy can be found in the closely watched Williams v. California education inequity lawsuit still working its way through California courts in 2003.[12] Testimony filed in that case documents how the multi-track year-round calendar compounds school education delivery and other public policy problems, and serves to further segregate public schools.[13]

    Florida already has a serious school segregation problem. The state is identified as the 9th most segregated state for Hispanic and the 20th most segregated for black students in a report by The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University that examined racial mix of U.S. schools in 2000. The state has gone backward. Segregation in Florida schools today mirrors conditions 30 years ago.[14]

    Even academics who are advocates of year-round school warn that "implementing a [multi-track year-round calendar] may result in . . . ghettoization of specific student [or teacher] groups on separate tracks."[15]

    NOTE: This is only the introduction of a full examination of Year-Round Schooling. For the rest of the story, go to Summer Matters.

    — Billee Bussard
    Summer Matters


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