Cooling on Year-Round Schools

September 27, 1994

Here's what the two main candidates for governor say about year-round schooling, a concept being studied in a half-dozen Maryland school systems that's of concern to parents who see its flaws.

Republican Ellen Sauerbrey: "I'm not that gung-ho for it . . . I have major concerns about the impact on families. Families are under such pressure."

Democrat Parris Glendening: "It's an issue brought to me daily, at least by friends of my 14-year-old son. I do not support it as a mandatory program. I can see hardships for families. I'm not convinced there will be substantial savings."

Fortunately, the two gubernatorial candidates share the view that year-round schooling as pushed by Gov. William Donald Schaefer is a dubious antidote to rising school construction costs, one that creates as many problems as it solves. Mr. Schaefer sprang the idea on county officials at their summer convention in 1993 and all but dared several school systems not to try it.

This pet project of the governor's may get stroked by some capital budgeteers, who face the dilemma of finding space for students in the boom suburbs. But the idea has never been embraced by the state school board or by parents.

One Maryland school has actually begun operating on a 12-month rather than 10-month calendar -- Robert W. Coleman Elementary in West Baltimore. But its program was instituted to confront the intractable problems of an impoverished school population. The reasons year-round schooling is being studied at Mr. Schaefer's behest elsewhere in the state have little to do with education.

Students would still attend school the same 180 days. Studies nationally are inconclusive on any increase in academic achievement in year-round schools. The concept is mostly used in Sunbelt states where the seasons never change and is virtually unheard of in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, even in states reputed for attempting other education reforms. Moreover, the complexities of secondary education make it impossible to implement at the high school level, so it would be impossible to coordinate the schedules of younger children with their older siblings.

How did Mr. Schaefer respond when it was suggested this option may be a dilemma for families? "People can always find fault with something . . . but I think they'll adapt without trouble at all."

Judging by the comments of the gubernatorial hopefuls, families won't have to worry about this experiment being shoved down their throats.

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