Schaefer touts year-round schools

November 21, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Gov. William Donald Schaefer proposed yesterday to give five school systems money to study, implement or test year-round school schedules beginning early next year.

Under Mr. Schaefer's plan, which he outlined at a statewide conference on year-round education, the five districts would get as much as $100,000 each in state money to explore alternate schedules.

Proponents say the year-round concept would lower school construction costs and increase student achievement, but many parents and others are dubious.

"I'm serious about having year-round schools," Mr. Schaefer told the audience of more than 200 school administrators, elected officials, parents and students at Catonsville Community College. "It's not something I just take lightly. I'd like to try."

His pitch echoed assertions he made in August, when he made public his wishes that the year-round concept be explored in the context of containing state and local government spending. He also has pressed for the concept before the state's local school superintendents.

School systems will have until Jan. 21 to submit to state officials a proposal to establish a year-round program, which could involve only one school, Mr. Schaefer said.

He said systems will know on Feb. 14 whether they have won grant money, intended to subsidize 80 percent of a district's total cost of exploring year-round education.

School systems that win grants would have 16 months to complete their proposals and could use the money to do cost-benefit analyses, conduct forums or test year-round schools.

Some systems in Maryland have begun to look at year-round education. Howard County, with a 30 percent projected growth in enrollment in the next 10 years, recently conducted a forum on year-round schools that more than 200 parents attended.

Howard school officials also are surveying parents, teachers and students about the idea. Results won't be released until spring or summer.

Next fall, Baltimore's Robert W. Coleman Elementary School will be the first in Maryland to switch to year-round operations. Though While the school is not crowded, educators there believe that an all-year schedule would help students learn and retain more.

Year-round education, in which the 10- to 12-week summer vacation is spread throughout the year, has been gaining momentum across the United States, particularly in the fast-growing South.

Many of the country's 400 private and public school systems that have year-round schools are west of the Mississippi River. Half the nation's 1.5 million students on a year-round schedule attend school in California, according to the National Association for Year-Round Education.

Supporters say year-round schooling saves money because enrollment can be increased as much as 50 percent at a school with a staggered schedule system, softening or eliminating the need to build more schools. Backers also say students forget less when summer vacation is shortened.

But opponents argue that year-round schools take a toll on family life and on students who participate in extra-curricular activities, who attend out-of-state sports camps, and who work during the summer. Opponents also questioned the effects on student achievement.

Experts at various work sessions yesterday said year-round schooling would be cost-effective only if schools were able to enroll 15 percent more students. School construction costs would be lower because of less need to build schools, and operating costs may be lower or higher, depending on local school districts' expenses.

Conference speakers from districts in various parts of the

country said test scores at year-round schools are typically higher than -- or the same as -- those at schools with traditional schedules.

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