The Michigan House of Representatives recently killed House Bill 4982, sponsored by Representative Andy Schor (D, Lansing) but placed language from the bill into House Bill 4295, sponsored by Representative Joe Haveman (R, Holland), which means funds may be appropriated for the infrastructural changes needed to open some schools year round in Michigan. The amendment would not increase the amount of days or hours students and teachers spend in class, it would simply reorganize the school calendar to break up the traditional three month summer vacation. An important feature of this amendment to HB 4295 is that schools being targeted for these infrastructural and calendar changes would be at risk schools - many of which are in poor neighborhoods. The amendment sets $2 million aside for these infrastructural changes, which is considerably less than the $10 million Representative Schor asked for in his original bill, but greatly increases the chances of this pilot program becoming law in Michigan. HB 4295 passed the House 107-3 and stands a very good chance of passing the Senate.
Current policy gives students a concurrent three months off from school, a longtime practice many believe is a remnant from our days as an agrarian society. Teachers claim up to six weeks are spent each fall reviewing curriculum from the previous grade (Kenning). Schools are presently allowed to switch to year round schedules, granted the district gets a waiver from the state (Dwyer), but the warm nature of Michigan summers makes making the switch tough without room in the budget for air conditioning units and other summer infrastructure.
Three month summers are, however, important to certain groups around Michigan. The tourism industry is an expected opponent of year-round schooling in Michigan (Dwyer), and nationwide groups like “The Coalition for Traditional School Years” headed by Tina Bruno. Bruno refutes the claim that year round schooling helps close achievement gaps in schools, and despite mixed results in studies she asserts students forget just as much in small breaks as they do in long ones (Dwyer).
Research supporting year-round school as generally more effective (Kneese, 2000), and particularly more effective in the case of at-risk schools (Cooper, et al., 2003) has been well received. This has contributed to a nationwide trend of switching to year-round programs. The National Association for Year Round Education reports a 441 percent growth since the mid-1980’s in year round K-12 programs nationwide (Education Week). In fact, the trend has already started in Michigan with three Warrant Community Schools and two Holt Public Schools on alternative calendars (Smith). The newest year round school in the Holt Public Schools district, Sycamore elementary, installed an air conditioning unit out of its own pocket for an estimated cost of $325,000 (Smith). Representative Andy Schor believed the $10 million allotted for such changes in his bill will cover up to 15 schools (Smith), which is reasonable based on Sycamore’s experience. Official figures for the amount of schools covered by the $2 million plan have yet to be released.
A creative way to offset these costs, though not mentioned in HB 4295, is already in practice in some school districts around the country (Education Week). This strategy, known as multi-track year round schooling involves splitting students and teachers into “tracks” that follow their own schedule. The beauty of this plan is that one track is on vacation at all times, increasing the school’s capacity without building more classrooms.
The state is maturing and times are tough. As romantic as the notion of a three month summer can be, the practice is hurting those who can’t afford to make the most of it. Arguments against a year-round calendar for every school are still valid for children whose parents might want to take them on long trips, however it seems imprudent to leave at risk students without the structure and guidance offered by their schools in the name of tradition. The possibility that it is a better way to educate people in general (Kneese) makes the adjustment even easier to stomach.
Cooper, H., Valentine, J.C., Charlton, K., Melson, A., "The Effects of Modified School Calendars on Student Achievement and on School and Community Attitudes," Review of Educational Research, 73 (1), pp. 1-52, 2003.
Dwyer, Dustin. "Who Gets to Decide When the School Year Starts? Not Schools." State of Opportunity. N.p., 4 Sept. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.
Kenning, Chris. "Teachers See Benefits in Year-round Schools." Courier-journal.com. The Courier-Journal, 17 July 2006. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <.">http://www.nayre.org/Louisville%20CJ%20July%2017.pdf>.
Kneese, C.C., "Review of Research on Student Learning in Year-Round Education," Journal of Research and Development in Education, 29 (2), pp. 61-72, 1996.
Smith, Brian. "Michigan Ann Arbor Bay City Detroit Flint Grand Rapids Jackson Kalamazoo Lansing Muskegon Saginaw All Michigan." MLive.com. N.p., 15 Sept. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2014.
"Year-Round Schooling." Education Week. N.p., 3 Aug. 2004. Web. 23 Feb. 2014. <.">http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/year-round-schooling/>.