Marching to a different drummer The only county interested in year-round schools must not mix two issues.

February 09, 1996

ONE OF THE arguments being used by local proponents of year-round schools is that they could help troubled institutions such as Severn's Van Bokkelen Elementary, where social problems breed poor pupil performance. Without a doubt, a year-round calendar or even longer school days which would extend the calendar beyond the state-mandated 180 days ought to be considered for Van Bokkelen.

Schools in similarly impoverished, transient communities, such as Robert W. Coleman Elementary in West Baltimore, have found that year-round schooling promotes stability and cuts down on "summer learning loss," especially with remedial students, who account for a disproportionately large percentage of the population at such schools.

Coleman Elementary, which started sending children to school year-round with shorter breaks in 1994, has yet to see a substantial increase in test scores. But attendance rates are good, teachers say children are retaining what they learn, and most parents like the new calendar, the only one of its type in the region.

That year-round schooling may help students in a poor, crisis-ridden community, however, is not a rationale for wholesale abandonment of the September to June schedule. In Anne Arundel -- the only area jurisdiction, including educationally savvy Howard and Frederick counties, seriously considering year-round education -- supporters have yet to allay the concerns that have perennially dogged this issue.

Have year-round schools been shown to improve student performance? No. Will they save money? On construction costs, maybe. But operating costs increase -- and all schools would need air conditioning.

Do the benefits justify the upheaval? Such a change would affect everything from the summer economy to child care to childrens' opportunities for summer camps and other out-of-school learning experiences. In West Baltimore, parents accepted the 12-month calendar, partly because vacations and other seasonal amenities are not an option for most families. In suburbia, the situation is different. Year-round education may work for Van Bokkelen. But that unique situation should not be used to sell this still-unproven idea on a grand scale.

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