On the Road to Year-Round Schools?

January 18, 1994

The results of a survey of Howard residents on the subject of year-round schools gives county officials hope that the idea can be sold to a larger audience. Not unexpectedly, a majority of residents polled by the Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research group of Columbia -- 45 percent -- opposed the idea. But it is significant that 38 percent liked the idea.

Supportive responses increased when more information was provided or when the results were broken down by geography. In these numbers, officials see fertile territory for more converts later on. With that in mind, Superintendent Michael Hickey says he is proceeding with a survey of school personnel and students, as well as the development of a mock calendar that would be used to better explain the concept to residents. He left open the possibility of a pilot program in the future involving just a few schools. In fact, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer first pitched his idea of expanding the school calendar to save school construction money last year, he suggested Howard might be a good place for a pilot program because County Executive Charles I. Ecker is a former educator and is open to the idea.

Although having students attend schools in shifts throughout the year still seems fraught with too many disruptions and too few concrete advantages, Mr. Hickey's fact-finding mission seems reasonable. Some of these early results beg for more scrutiny. For instance, the only place where a majority said they would be willing to try year-round schools was Columbia, generally considered a more liberal corner of the county. There were, however, indications of open-mindedness elsewhere: 59 percent said they could support year-round schools if the concept were proven to save money and 56 percent said residents would get used to a new calendar.

But the survey also implies that residents are more willing to embrace a new calendar when it affects someone else. A majority favored year-round schools as long as the traditional calendar was kept as an option for them.

The challenge for school officials is to prove that year-round schools will reduce costs and improve education. Officials should at least be commended for trying to gather and possibly shift public opinion, rather than just bulldozing such a controversial change down people's throats.

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