By Chris Croll
Prior to the pandemic, there were more than 15 school divisions in Virginia that operated on a year-round schedule. While students who attend school year-round are in class for the same number of days as they would be on an August to June school calendar, research shows that year-round students retain more of what they learn. For some student populations in Virginia, year-round school has also been shown to dramatically increase SOL test scores.
The most widely used year-round calendar has students in school on a 45:15 scheduling pattern. Students attend 45 days of classes and then have 15 days of recess or intercession learning. This cycle repeats four times throughout the year for a total of 180 instructional days, the same number of days that LCPS provides instruction today. At the end of the school year, students enjoy five weeks of summer vacation rather than the traditional eight weeks.
The ideal year-round model has all students in the division in and out of school at the same time. Some school divisions in the state use a two or three track system where cohorts of students attend school while others are on a break. This helps schools manage overcrowding by limiting the number of students in a building at any given time. Siblings are usually placed on the same track.
About 54% of the Loudoun parents I surveyed in an informal online poll expressed an interest in learning more about year-round school. Reasons for considering year-round school include greater learning retention, giving kids time to “rest and reboot” at more regular intervals and being able to take vacations off-schedule from the rest of the country. About 38% of parents said they are not interested in learning about this model and the rest were undecided. Parents opposed to the idea of year-round school expressed concern that student athletes would miss out on summer sports camps, finding childcare can be difficult on such a varied schedule and they prefer that kids enjoy the longer “brain break” that eight weeks off can provide.
According to research, the SOL scores of year-round students are comparable to those of traditional calendar students for most general student populations. However, the SOL test scores of some subgroups, including black students, were higher at year-round schools. (Source:Virginia Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission report to the Governor and General Assembly called“Review of Year-Round Schools,” 2012).
So where did the August-June calendar come from anyway? The reasons have little to do with student learning and everything to do with community needs. According to the same report referenced above:“Rural schools in the 19th century implemented schedules that accommodated the agricultural needs of their local communities, and many rural schools were open for, at most, six months of the year. Conversely, many urban schools implemented much longer school calendars at that time, in some cases up to 49 weeks of school out of the year. Urban and rural school systems abandoned these separate calendar structures in the late 19th century and moved to a standard nine-month school calendar due to increased pressure to create a compulsory system of education.”
According to the National Association for Year-Round Education, in addition to less learning loss and higher test scores for some students, year-round school has other advantages such as higher attendance rates for students, fewer teacher substitution days, lower drop-out rates and reduced vandalism.
Year-round schools comprise about one-sixth of all schools in the United States and, according to theVirginia Department of Education, only cost about three percent more for school divisions to operate, excluding transportation and food costs which were not included in cost calculations.In a 2020 Appropriation Act, the Virginia General Assembly authorized planning and startup grants to support school divisions that decide to move to a year-round calendar.
Former School Board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) has been advocating that Loudoun County Public Schools consider year-round school for many years. He has strengthened his resolve because of the increase in learning loss that has resulted from the COVID pandemic, “I want the School Board to think about year-round school as a response to the pandemic, overcrowding and growth problems,” Marshall wrote in an email tome. When I asked him why he thinks his efforts have largely been ignored, he went on to say, “We have to avoid the groupthink that is motivated by a desire to go along with otherjurisdictions to maintain harmony and conformity.”
Apparently, many Loudoun parents agree with Mr. Marshall and it might be the right time for Loudoun County Public Schools to take a closer look at year-round schooling as a solution for learning loss, overcrowding, equity and other educational concerns.
Chris Croll is a writer, empathy activist and communications consultant. She sits on the Board of the Ryan Bartel Foundation, a youth suicide prevention nonprofit. Croll lives in Leesburg with her husband and two teenage boys.