Schaefer and year-round schools

September 27, 1994

Sometimes, a governor's term expires before he can fully implement an idea. When it's a bad idea, that's not such a bad thing.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer has been a cheerleader for year-round schooling ever since he sprang the idea on county officials at their summer convention last year. The governor believes that funneling more students through a school over 12 months will save on the burgeoning costs of building new schools. School construction and classroom overcrowding are certainly key issues in Maryland; in fact, the governor and legislature anted up $106 million last year for school building.

But we remain dubious about year-round schooling as a solution. While construction costs come down, costs go up for 12-month teachers and air conditioning. What's more, no one's determined how year-round schools would impact revenues related to tourism or Ocean City, or even how the change could affect an out-of-state business' decision to move here. The very limited acceptance for year-round schooling in the U.S. is found primarily in the Sunbelt.

The two major party nominees hoping to succeed Mr. Schaefer, Democrat Parris Glendening and Republican Ellen Sauerbrey, sound lukewarm to the year-round concept. They both speak of the untold impact on families. Although most parents would probably admit they're happy to see their children get back to school come September, many families still enjoy the things they can share with their children only in summer, as well as those skills and experiences their children learn outside the classroom.

As far as educational benefits, even studies from the trade association that represents year-round schooling are inconclusive. And where academic achievement has improved, it has generally been under the so-called "single track" model in which students might have additional days of school. Under Mr. Schaefer's plan, youngsters would still go to school the same 180 days; their schedules would simply be adjusted so more of them could be assembly-lined through their schools.

The governor last year gave money to six jurisdictions to study the idea. Except for a program just begun in a Baltimore City elementary that seems more a true education-based reform, enthusiasm for year-round schooling in other jurisdictions isn't even tepid. The impetus for this switch may disappear from Annapolis altogether when Mr. Schaefer leaves office -- and that will be fine.

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