Year-Round School: Worth the Pain?

February 21, 1994

We still believe in summer vacations for kids. So pardon us for a lack of enthusiasm just because the state has given Anne Arundel and five other school systems $400,000 to study year-round schooling.

In a field where fads come and go (remember open-space classrooms?), year-round school seems the fad du jour. A growing number of proponents, including Gov. William Donald Schaefer, see abolition of the September-to-June schedule as a solution to school overcrowding and as a way to improve how kids learn -- although there is no solid evidence that year-round schooling accomplishes the latter.

A year-round calendar may reduce construction costs but it also would increase operating costs. It would not mean children spend more time in class -- still 180 days. Besides, the problems that are really dragging down our public schools -- lack of discipline, low teacher morale, a less than challenging curriculum -- will not be solved by reconfiguring the calendar.

We are not criticizing the state's decision to study this issue. As skeptical as we are about the concept, it is bound to keep popping up in the face of mushrooming school construction costs. Proponents claim year-round schooling would increase school capacities by one-third by staggering students in shifts throughout the year. Surely, some solution or some combination is necessary in counties such as Anne Arundel, where the Board of Education has requested $85 million for school construction in fiscal 1995. That's $35 million more than the county has available to spend on all capital projects. At least for now, it is better for the state to establish whether year-round classes truly would save money and improve education than to force the idea on a citizenry that doesn't seem to want it.

What if the studies indicate year-round schooling does make financial sense? Then parents and educators will have to ask whether it is worth it. The September-to-June school year is deeply ingrained in our culture. The proposed change would disrupt everything from when families vacation to the seasonal summer economy to child care. Is it worth taking away one of the privileges of childhood in an era where children are already saddled with too many adult pressures? Is year-round schooling a less painful solution than raising taxes or redistricting? We have our doubts.

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