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Government reports got it wrong on calendar reforms

Nearly all  'model' YR schools of the early 1990s 
have returned to a traditional school year

See commentary below: 
School Calendars Reforms are Bad Medicine

     Here's the short of it:
     Government funded reports in the 1980s and '90s got it all wrong when  they touted the year-round calendar as a success story.
     Nearly all the model year-round schools  spotlighted in several reports authored by government and business leaders ---reports  that served as catalysts for a proliferation  of school calendar experiments --- have since returned to a traditional school year. Somehow, the nation's media failed to follow-up on this story.
     Here's what we found  in our follow-up on some of those 'model' year-round schools cited in those reports. 

Most 'Model' Year-Round Schools
 Returned to a Traditional Calendar


  A Follow-up on the  'Model'  YR Schools


 of Time


Two multi-track schools are featured in this report. 

Emerson Elementary - Albuquerque, N.M.
          Returned to a traditional calendar. 
     The multi-track YR calendar created hardships for the  poor families at this school where nine out of 10 children qualified for free and reduced lunch.  School staff cited workload and burnout problems. 
     Curiously, the Prisoners of Time Commission chose to feature the Emerson school "success story,"  while ignoring the controversy that had raged about the higher costs, lower attendance and lower test scores at other Albuquerque YR schools.  Discontent in 17 other YR schools resulted in parents at all the schools voting in a straw ballot to return to a traditional calendar.
-Source: school staff,  former school board member and media accounts.

Forshay Middle School - Los Angeles, California
Remains on a multi-track YR calendar. 
     The multi-track year-round calendar used in Los Angeles to address severe overcrowding is cited as "academically damaging" by minority plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state on education inequities.
-Source: Press Release: Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund lawsuit, March  2000


Southern Growth Policies Board

"Year-Round Education: Restructuring Schools to Complement a changing Economy"

This report touting the merits of the year-round calendar is the product 
of an   association of government, civic, business and education leaders in 13
southern states and Puerto Rico. 

The  widely circulated devoted much space to laying the  legal and regulatory foundation for states to usher in year-round schools.

      The report notes there were 37 YR schools in five Southern Growth Policies Board states  at the time their report was issued. A records check found that nearly all those schools later returned to a traditional school year.  Here is a follow-up on  some of the "model" schools spotlighted in that report, which served to inspire year-round school experiments in other districts and states.

Lockett Elementary School - New Orleans. Louisiana
            Returned to a traditional calendar.
     After eight years, the school dropped the year-round calendar. Among the problems cited by parents and teachers:
     --High teacher absenteeism due to burnout.
     --Insufficient security in summer "when the campus crawled with intruders."
     --Many students starting school six weeks later than the mid-summer school start date.
     --Troubles getting textbooks and other supplies during the summer.
     --Difficulties for working parents arranging child care during frequent breaks.
     --Teachers noted no significant gains in test scores.
-Source: The Times-Picayune, March 11, 1997

Mooresville Graded School District, North Carolina
Dumped the year-round calendar.
     In 1989, Mooresville became one of 15 schools nationwide to receive an RJR Nabisco Foundation grant of $535,000 to try a year-round calendar as part of the Next Century School program. Community interest in establishing an Optional Year-Round Program was sparked by a promise made to a Japanese industrial prospect, according to the YR coordinator. 
     While the Southern Growth report touts the success and growth of YRS, a different story is told seven years later in  a news story with this headline: "Mooresville eliminates year-round program."
     The Southern Growth report said:
     "On average, nearly half of the student body has participated in enrichment courses." 
     The news story said: "Only a small percentage of students participated in enrichment classes," according to the school board chairman. 
     The chairman  cited the following reasons for dumping the calendar: "problems identified with the operation of running both the traditional and year-round calendars: busing schedules, combination classes, cafeteria schedules, hiring of specialists, record keeping and the imbalance of class size."
     A doctoral dissertation on the Mooresville year-round experience written by Bruce W. Boyles Jr., who later became superintendent, found no evidence that the school calendar made a difference in test scores after two years.
     The district now operates on a "modified collegiate calendar" (9-1, 9-2, 9-1).
-Source: Record & Landmark, Statesville, January 8, 1999

Wyomenia Park Elementary School- Ocala, Florida
Returned to traditional school year.
What a difference a year made in Florida's year-round calendar pilot program. 
     The Southern Growth report produced in January 1992, which touts the academic merits of the YRS in Ocala's   Wyomenia Park Elementary,  finds  Supt. R.S. "Skip" Archibald III predicting nearly half of the district's  elementary schools will  go year-round school by 1995. 
      The headlines in the Ocala  newspaper a year and a month later: "Year-Round Schooling Dismissed By Board."
      The new school superintendent (Archibald decided not to run for re-election)  recommended to the board that it end the calendar experiment, citing costs, parent and staff objections, and equity issues.
     Numerous surveys failed to produce evidence that the year-round calendar offers any advantages, according to the story.  
-Source: The Ocala Star Banner, February 24, 1993.

Florida's Project Lead

     Project Lead was a federal program that funded a report on year-round education. The report  touted the success of Florida's year-round pilot program in Ocala and other communities. (Most of those communities later returned to a traditional school year.)  The  Florida Project Lead report was circulated at a national education meeting in the early 1990s, which may have served to encourage other school districts across the country  to experiment with the year-round calendar.  
     At the very time state officials were rushing the monograph  to press, the Ocala school district was embroiled in a bitter debate over the hardships, costs and the disappointing academic results of its year-round calendar experiment. The authors of the Project Lead report chose to make no mention of this.
     Most of the sources of information cited in the monograph were proponents of the school calendar, including the Ocala superintendent who piloted the Florida year-round school program. Ironically, the Ocala  superintendent was in the awkward position of promoting the year-round calendar as president of the National Association For Year-Round Education during the very year his own school board made the decision to abandoned it.  
-NOTE: The above is a summary from memory and will be revised when I locate the Project Lead monograph, which is buried in one of about 20 boxes of research. The sources of information include Interviews with Florida State Department of Education officials and public records from  state  federal governments.--Billee Bussard 

National Governors' Association

The National Governors' report said the year-round calendar is a more efficient use of taxpayer investment in school buildings and, "Most important, educators to date have found that improved academic performance can result from a restructured calendar that shortens the vacation periods away from formal instruction."
      A list compiled by
SummerMatters of thousands of schools that have since tried and rejected the year-round calendar provides strong evidence to refute those claims. 
(See: The Reject List)


School Calendar Reforms Are Bad Medicine

By Billee Bussard
SummerMatters!! Editor

Itís time to remove school calendar change from the school improvement medicine cabinet. 

Recommended as a school fix in a series of government reports over the last 15 years, reconfiguring the school year has proved to be both a bitter and ineffective pill.  Thousands of schools across the nation have tried different calendars only to return to a traditional school year after disappointing results both within the classroom and community.

Itís time also to revisit the very reports that served a catalyst for  experiments with a year-round calendar, extended school year and mid-summer school starting dates, all of which cost more, but yield little to no improvement in the academic health of the nationís schools.

National Governors' Report Was Wrong

Let's begin with  "Time For Results" released in 1986 by  the National Governors' Association ,  in the wake of our fears about economic competition from Pacific Rim and other industrialized nations.  The National Governors' report said the year-round calendar is a more efficient use of taxpayer investment in school buildings and, "Most important, educators to date have found that improved academic performance can result from a restructured calendar that shortens the vacation periods away from formal instruction."

The experience in California over the last 15 years tells another story.

California, the state that consistently has the largest number of children in year-round schools (some 1.3 million or 62 percent of the nation's total in the 2000-2001 school year) is at the bottom of the performance list on the National Assessment for Education Progress.

Other evidence of the dismal failure of the year-round calendar is found in two recent California lawsuits on education inequities, in which the year-round calendar is cited as "academically damaging" and educationally inferior to the traditional school year.  Among the evidence presented in the suit: attending school in  hot summer's heat is not conducive to learning.  "Experts have noted that significant reductions in reading speed and comprehension and mathematical skills occur when students are exposed to temperatures above 74 degrees," one lawsuit states.

Shouldn't commonsense tell us that?

Additionally, the multi-track calendar recommended in the National Governorsí report segregates by socio-economic, ethnic and racial groups and creates education inequities, according to an analysis of 1998 California test scores of 12,000 students by the University of California, Riverside.

A recently (December 2000) settled lawsuit brought about by the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund supports these observations.

How can year-round education with its socio-inequity side-effects be considered progressive school reform?

Education Sect. Bill Bennett Was Wrong

Among those who jumped on the school calendar bandwagon a short time after the governors' report issued was U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, who in "First Lessons: A Report on Elementary Education in America," issued in 1986, embraced the argument that calendar change would prevent summer learning loss.

Bennett quotes R. Mac Irving, president of the Alabama Association of School Boards: "The potential benefits [of the year-round calendar] are too great to allow the traditional arguments in favor of the nine-month schools to prevail."

But that doesn't reconcile with a 1998 review of the research on year-round education  in Auburn, Ala., by a group of parents  serving on a school calendar committee--parents  who also happened to be distinguished faculty members at Auburn University.

"The difference in the amount of forgetting after four weeks or 12 is not significant, especially when it is recognized that some of the information had been taught almost a year earlier in the previous fall. In fact, one could argue that a year-round calendar, with its multiple three-week breaks, simply offers more opportunity to forget,Ē Chris Newland, professor of psychology, reported to Auburn school officials.


Southern Growth Policies Report Wrong

What set the stage for the hundreds of failed school calendar experiments in the South over the last decade was a 37-page report in 1992 by the Southern Growth Policies Board.

The Southern Growth group  is composed of elected officials and influential business and civic leaders from 13 Southern states and Puerto Rico.  

The Southern Growth Policies  report endorsed a year-round calendar and longer school year, claiming the year-round calendar is viewed as a means to break the so-called "psychological barrier" of the long summer vacation and is an incremental step toward expanding the school year.

Most telling about that report is the track record of the 37 year-round schools in five Southern states that were held  out as success stories--models of the use of a year-round calendar. Interestingly,  nearly all of those schools have since returned to a traditional school year.

In 1992, Florida had 27 schools in nine school districts on the year-round calendar.  Among those original nine, today only Brevard remains with just three  year-round schools.

Orange County, Fla., once held the dubious distinction as the nation's second largest year-round school district, but went from 66 year-round schools in 1994 to zero. However, two schools in the 2000-01 school year were experimenting with an extended year program.

Three of five schools highlighted in the Southern Growth report no longer use a year-round calendar.             

--Johnson Lockett Elementary in New Orleans, one of the early converts to a year-round calendar after the National Governorís report, returned to a traditional school year in fall of 1997. 

--Mooresville Graded School District received an RJR Nabisco foundation grant in 1989 (one of 15 nationwide) to try the year-round calendar as part of the company's Next Century Schools program.  It dropped the year-round model in 1999.

--Wyomena Park Elementary in Ocala was part of Florida's year-round pilot study, but the school board voted to return to a traditional school year just a year after the Southern Growth Policy Board report framed it as a success story.

North Carolina Study is Revealing 

North Carolina rushed into the year-round calendar following the Southern Growth Policies report  as a means  improve performance while also addressing overcrowding problems. But a recent comprehensive analysis of test scores shows no academic return for all the added investment in time and money.

A study released in March 2000 by Bradley McMillen, a researcher for the North Carolina Department of Education, Division of Accountability Services, found in a comparison of 345,000 test scores that year-round calendar students had no academic advantage over traditional calendar students.  

The North Carolina study, the largest and most credible comparison of the effects of calendar change to date, also casts a cloud over proposals to extend the school year because North Carolina makes additional instructional days mandatory in a majority of its year-round schools.

Calendar reconfiguration and experimentation with more of the same kind of instruction is clearly not the answer in North Carolina or elsewhere.

Prisoner's of Time Study Got It Wrong

The catalyst for the proliferation of school calendar experiments we see today is "Prisoners of Time," a series of reports issued in 1994 by a federal study commission on time and learning. That report, like the others, asserted the traditional school year was an outdated "agrarian calendar" and recommended it be replaced with a longer school year. The report also presented year-round calendar schools in a glowing light, spotlighting several year-round school "success stories" around the country.

Interestingly, Emerson Elementary in Albuquerque, N.M., one of the model schools visited by the study commission, returned to a traditional calendar a short time after the Prisoners of Time report was released.

In early March 2001, the school calendar reform movement  was dealt a significant blow when the citizens of Murfreesboro, Tenn., successfully defeated a proposal for year-round school district wide in Rutherford County.  Murfreesboro was  featured in the Prisoner's Report for its extended day programs and was about to implement its first year-round school calendar. 

One of the  Rutherford County School board member pushing hard for a year-round calendar district-wide  was John Hodge Jones, none other than the man who chaired the Prisoners of Time commission.

The Cotton Pickin' Truth 
about the 'Agrarian Calendar'

At the height of the heated Murfreesboro debate, a past president of the Rutherford County Historical Society stepped forward to expose the cotton pickiní truth about the so-called agrarian calendar.

Nell Blakenship said:
     Proposed school calendars that would start the school year in late July and early August more resemble  the agrarian schedule of the Depression era, when schools let out three to six weeks in summer so children could pick cotton.

"We've just gradually worked back to July. Each year we go a little bit further back to the calendar of the 1930s," she said.

John Hodge Jones is a life-long resident of rural Rutherford County--farming country. At the time he chaired the Prisoner's of Time commission, Murfreesboro City Schools had what was described in the April 1994 report  as" the most comprehensive  extended day and extended year program in the United States."  The school district was planning  to open its first  year-round school in August 1994.  A few years later, Jones would become a board member of  the National Association For Year-Round Education, the same organization that is credited by former Montana Gov. Ted Schwinden for selling the year-round school idea to the National Governors' Association back in 1985.  

It is ironic that 15 years after Schwinden chaired the governorsí task force on school facilities, endorsing the year-round calendar, his state still has only one year-round school, and  that one  is a residential treatment center for troubled youth and children with learning disabilities.

Interestingly, the move to a year-round calendar more than a decade ago both in Murfreesboro and Mooresville was urged by business leaders to accommodate the wishes of Japanese industrial prospects who were used to longer school years for their children.

Today, however, Japan is shrinking its school year and re-examining Asian approaches to education  that its own critics say stifle the kind of creativity and ingenuity that has made the United States an economic success. A February 25, 2001,  New York Times article states the reason for the change in Japan ďis a growing concern that an orderly and unimaginative school system excels at producing pliant, disciplined workers, which the nation needed for its rebuilding effort after World War II, but is failing to produce the problem solvers and innovators needed for the future.Ē

Evidence that the focus should be on quality time in the classroom rather than reconfiguring the school year or adding more school days  is found in the Hutto, Texas, Independent School District. Since 1992, the traditional school year there has been trimmed from 180 days to as few as 165,  and test scores have improved or remained stable ever since.

In Hutto, shifting funds and focus to teacher training, new instructional methods and efficiency of classroom operations has proved to be a good prescription for what ailed this truly independent Texas district.

The nation has experimented with school calendars long enough.  We now have a strong body of evidence from more than 2,000 schools that took a dose of reconfigured school years to show that this medicine cures nothing and produces an unacceptable level of harmful side effects for families, children and communities.