Year-round school

September 07, 1993

Proponents of year-round school say it's amazing how quickly it's catching on -- 1.5 million students attended about 2,000 year-round public schools last year, compared to 1,650 schools a year earlier and 425 schools seven years ago.

Those people are wrong. What's amazing about year-round schools is how slowly the idea is catching on, considering that it's been around since the 19th century. There are more than 40 million students attending more than 83,000 public schools in the United States -- and most of them attend from Labor Day until mid-June.

Year-round school is resisted because it is disruptive to family rhythms and to the way schools work. Now, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is pushing year-round school for Maryland. Are there benefits sufficient to offset the hassles?

The one proven benefit is reduced need for building new schools. In Maryland, the state pays most of the cost of school construction -- $80 million worth this year. This in itself explains the governor's enthusiasm. Schools operating year-round can rotate vacations so that roughly a quarter of the students are off at any one time. Buildings can then handle more students, and the need for construction is reduced. It is not clear, however, how much increased operating costs (a burden borne principally by local governments) could cancel out the state's savings in construction.

Beyond the cost questions are educational questions. Advocates say kids learn more on a year-round schedule because they forget so much over long summer vacations. Opponents say kids learn less because the more frequent vacations necessitate more class time spent on review. There's not much good research, but there appears to be little if any difference in learning. (Kids might learn more if they went to school longer, but that's not what we're talking about here. Going to school longer doesn't save money, it costs money.)

Having students on different schedules is not just a family headache, but also an educational one. Schools that have tried it report problems grouping together enough students for, say, a calculus course -- never mind the football players and the band members. That's not to say such problems can't be overcome, but just making year-round schools run smoothly would require expenditures of large amounts of administrative energy and imagination -- always in short supply.

Like education vouchers, year-round schooling is an idea that comes up in cycles, gets tried in a few places, fades from view for awhile, then comes back touted as fresh and progressive. It seems unlikely to catch on in Maryland -- which, comparing the costs and benefits, is just as well.

Navy goat or whatever -- they are sure to buy them when the time comes.

The sharp reaction from the area's black community over the NAACP misstep points to a large market for football tickets here that is conspicuously absent from Orioles sell-outs.

Combined with the assurance of $1 million payoffs to visiting teams whenever they play here -- far more than at any current NFL city, let alone Charlotte or St. Louis -- and it is hard to see how the NFL can pass Baltimore up. Those $105,000 sky boxes && and $1,700 club seats look like better investments all the time.

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