Talking Points

School calendar fundamentals
Research Paper
About Us
What's New
Contact Us
History & Hype
Test Scores
Flawed Studies
Flawed Research
Fallacies & Fact
The Reject List
Talking Points
Ask Questions
Research Reviews
Important Studies
Year Round Schools
Early School Start
Extended Year
Grassroots Groups
Survival Strategy
State Histories

Summer Learning Loss 


Junior High & High School 


Overcrowding Alternatives


Too Little Too Late:
     Summer School AND Year-Round School


Pamphlet: Myth & Reality of school calendar change
 (last item on page;  designed to copy on  8
1/2 x 11 paper)
  This pamphlet is a VALUABLE handout that quickly conveys the fallacy of calendar change 

Year-round school promoters have turned to the fuzzy concept of    "summer learning loss"   as a main argument for switching calendars.  But as with their unfounded claims of academic benefits from year-round school, there is little credible research to show a relationship between reconfiguring the school year  with shorter more frequent vacation breaks and  academic gains of any significance. 

Nevertheless, "summer learning loss" is an argument being used to entice schools to a year-round calendar, especially the  previously resistant  junior high and high schools.   In communities where there has been district-wide implementation of a year-round calendar,  experience shows these upper level schools are the first to return to a traditional calendar because of the scheduling chaos and many other complications with testing, curriculum and extra curricular activities a year-round schedule creates for the junior high and high school student. 

In these days of pressures from high-stakes testing,  principals of  junior high and high  schools are vulnerable targets for year-round school pitchmen.  Additionally, many junior high and high school principals are dealing with school overcrowding pressures  as a result of  the failure of state and local governments to adequately fund new school construction to meet growth. On the surface, the year-round calendar would appear to be the panacea. The disastrous  long-term results of this quick fix approach are revealed in the California year-round school disaster, as well told in  the Los Angeles Weekly.


What follows are summaries of  media  and research accounts pertaining to so-called "summer learning loss"  and  summaries of research and  experiences with year-round school at junior high and high schools.  They are followed by some ideas that are better alternatives to overcrowding than using a year-round calendar.

What research, experience shows

"Summer Learning Loss"  Myth and Reality

Myth No. 1:  Kids lose a lot of what they learned during the school year over a long summer vacation.

REALITY:Credible research shows the percentage of children returning in the fall knowing less is small. For most, however, the loss is pretty close to zero. . . .

"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.”

                                              --Chris Newland, professor of psychology, Auburn University,
                                           review of the research presented to Auburn school board, 1998.

Myth No. 2:  A year-round calendar  reduces the four to six weeks of review time teachers typically spend in the fall.

REALITY: Studies show real learning loss occurs within two weeks of leaving school, therefore a year-round schedule which creates more frequent breaks requires more review time and results in less time on task.  A traditional calendar creates more learning because learning is a building process.

    “An effective education is not a collection  of quickly forgotten, isolated facts, but rather the accumulation of a a solid foundation of knowledge and a diverse array of analytical and procedural skills that are not forgotten in a few short weeks. 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 the year-round calendar, with its multiple three-week breaks, simply offers more opportunities to forget.”

                                                                                 —Chris Newland, Auburn University, 1998.

Myth No. 3:  The year-round calendar intersession provides more instructional time for those students who need it, decreases opportunity for  learning loss and thus increases student achievement.

REALITY: "Among the many proposals advanced by legislators, special commissions, school boards, and community leaders to increase student achievement are numerous plans involving the lengthening of the school year by a significant number of days or the addition of minutes to the regular school day.  On their face they appeal to our logic that students will learn more and do better in school by simply spending more time at it. . . . Yet, according to available current research, perhaps nothing so widely misses the mark in offering an effective means of boosting student performance. . . 

"From a policy perspective, nothing in time-on-task literature suggests that what every school needs is a longer day or year. Problems are unique from school to school and may be caused by either lack of instructional time, appropriateness of instruction (or lack of it) how existing instructional time is used, student attendance, and other factors. Increasing instructional time when the real problem rests with the lack of effectiveness in using available instructional time or with high student absenteeism would only serve to compound the problem. . . 

"Potential gains in achievement from an increase in the school day/year might be eliminated by students' decisions to reduce their effort of even drop out of school."
  —"The Extended School Year/Day and student Achievement: When More isn't Necessarily Better, " An Oregon Education Association/OACE Position Paper, March 1993, prepared by Roger L. Traweek, Oregon Education Association.

 "Increases in the amount of instructional time without efforts to improve the quality of instruction are likely to be disappointing . . . increases of quality time alone will fail to provide useful impact to teachers, to provide student learning tasks that are more relevant to outcome measures or to enhance in any way the skills and knowledge of teachers." 
—Charles W. Fisher and David C. Berliner, editors of "Perspectives on Instructional Time," (1985).


What the Research Says . . .
     See the extensive  Research Review by Chris Newland, Ph. D., professor of psychology, Auburn University.

Other entries will be posted soon.

YRS Problems: 
Junior High and High School

A major obstacle to the growth and acceptance of the year-round calendar has been secondary schools.  The year-round calendar has proved unpopular among the teachers and parents of middle and high school students.  The calendar creates numerous scheduling complications, and other problems, as indicted in media accounts below.  It particularly is disruptive to competitive sports, music and arts programs.

The low acceptances at the secondary level is reflected in the figures during a  wave of year-round school experiments from 1976 to 1981.  During that period the number of  YR middle schools declined from 114 to 37, and the number of high schools declined from 104 to just 15, according a dissertation  by David James Mussatti.

In the 2000-2001 school year there were 223 high schools and 280 middle schools using a year-round calendar, according to information from the National Association For Year-Round Education. The greatest majority of those schools were in California, where there is severe overcrowding.  Districts  use a combination of the multi-track calendar and  a single-track calendar to enabled families with children at various school ages to be on a common calendar.

Las Vegas, Nevada,  with one of the biggest school overcrowding problems in the nation, has given construction of middle schools top priority so the district can convert all its junior high schools back to a traditional calendar. 

Media accounts -- Senior High Schools
The following information has been extrapolated from media accounts and other reference sources.

Curriculum complications for high schools
CHESTERTON, INDIANA - The Duneland School Corp. abandoned the proposal for a multi-track year-round calendar at Chesterton High School after hearing a report by a South Bend consulting firm. The year-round calendar "causes a lot of curriculum problems. You lose continuity. A lot of problems crop up that have to do with scheduling the prerequisites that students often need before taking other high school courses, " according to Dean Spelcher, with Spelcher, Fields and Associates of South Bend. The Chesterton principal told the board there would not be enough students to offer specialized courses on all tracks, such as honors biology or remedial algebra. 

A plan for the  Lebanon Community Schools (Boone County) in 1997 to become the first complete school district in Indiana to adopt a year-round program , including at the high school level, never materialized. As of the 2000-01 school year, only one Lebanon  elementary school was a year-round school.
                                 "Year-round classes hard to set up, say school officials"
                                                                     The Vidette Times, Dec. 10, 1995

Dual calendar is costly for high schools
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - Two special study committees recommended against the Warren Central High School becoming   the first high school in Indianapolis to offer a year-round calendar.  The Warren Township School Board scrapped the idea after hearing  from the chairman of  the School Improvement Council that one other high school in the nation  tried a dual calendar with a traditional and year-round program and  "gave it up because of expenses." No Warren Township schools were using a year-round calendar as of the 2000-01 school year.
                                              "Groups reject year-round high school classes"
                                                             Indianapolis Star/News, Nov. 12, 1996

Survey: YR high school unpopular with parents
OXNARD, CALIF., - In 1993, officials at Oxnard Union High School District  backed off a proposal of a year-round calendar at the high school level after a survey found 66 percent of parents and 60 percent of students opposed to it. As of the 2000-01 school year, there were no Oxnard High Schools using a year-round calendar.
                                               "Oxnard High to Stay with 9-Month Calendar" 
                                                 Los Angeles Times-Ventura, October 29, 1993

High school students shortchanged by YRS
LOS ANGELES, CALIF. - High school students on a year-round calendar are getting short-changed, according to a comprehensive report by Los Angeles Times Education Writer Duke Helfand.

 "Multi-track schedules present students with hurdles that do not exist at other schools. The setback, while not crippling on their own, take a cumulative toll on learning, spawning what many call a two-tiered system of education," according to the  Nov. 20, 2000  L.A. Times story.

"Little analysis has been done on the effect of year-round schedules at middle and high schools, perhaps because so few exist outside Los Angeles. But among those who have experienced the impact, it's hard to find defenders of multi-track, year-round education, particularly when it comes to secondary schools, " the story said.

"People with more privilege and political cloud don't want their children in these schools," said Jeanie Oaks, associate  dean of UCLA Graduate school of Education and Information Studies. 

Among the disadvantages of year-round education cited: 


Testing - Some calendar tracks are more advantageous than others for higher scores. Vacation breaks  that fall in January and February cost valuable time in preparing for Advanced Placement exams in the spring. Fewer honors classes are offered on some tracks than others.


College admissions - "Teenagers can't get critical summer internships and jobs that look god on college applications because they're in school, while others  must return to campus during their vacations to participate in extracurricular activities such as band and yearbook." The schedule often makes it difficult for students to meet recruiters.


Maintenance - "Maintenance is difficult to schedule when school is nearly always in session. Grass can't grow on much of the football field because it's constantly in use."


Textbooks - Getting books to students becomes more difficult.


School morale - The year-round schedule fragments the school. The tracts act like fault lines, fracturing students by abilities and talents.
               "Year-Round Discontent at Hollywood High: Education Staff, Students Say Learning suffers,"        Los Angeles Times, Nov. 20, 2000


Media accounts -- Junior High Schools
The following information has been extrapolated from media accounts and other reference sources.

YR Calendar source of many headaches for Jr. high
CALDWELL COUNTY, N.C. - The year-round school calendar at Hudson Middle School was dropped after  parents, teachers and other school staff outlined difficulties presented by offering both a traditional calendar and a year-round calendar in the school. Among the problems cited: 


Enrollment imbalances -   These  result in  combination classes of both traditional and year-round students, "especially in band, chorus and athletics. . . . In those classes. . . . both groups suffer because one group is always ahead  and the other behind."  The problem forced the  school band  to compete at a lower level of music.


Communications and instructional problems - "Teachers aid they do not have shared planning time and the media center does not always have certified instructors available."


Elective classes  - The year-round calendar's five-week sessions hamper the quality of instruction of alternative lab, occupational and career exploration, computer, art, Spanish, band and chorus classes.  


Remediation - Intersessions get low participation from children who need remediation.


Food Service - "Custodial and cafeteria staff have only half the time of other schools to prepare for the return of children."


Extra curricular activities - Scheduling difficulties arise for extra curricular activities, dancing and bus routes.
                "HMS Parents, Staff Debate Merits of Year-Round Program" 
                                                               Caldwell News, April 24, 1996

No academic advantage for Jr. High students
XENIA, OHIO -  The school board decided against a year-round calendar for the district, responding to  parent concerns. A representative of a group organized against   a year-round calendar proposal for Central Junior High said  research shows  no academic advantage to calendar change, and disadvantages for family life and extra-curricular activity. Xenia had no YR middle schools as of the 2000-2001 school year.
                                 "Research indicates year-round school not beneficial." 
                                                               Xenia Daily Gazette, March 13, 1999

YR calendar creates attendance problems for all schools
FORT WORTH, TEXAS - Eight middle schools operating on a year-round schedule were returned to a traditional school year in 1999. 

Between 1999 and the 2000-01 school year,  the number of Fort Worth Schools on year-round calendar dropped from 27 schools to just 4 elementary schools. The YR calendar was first eliminated at eight middle schools and five specialized schools.  Among the reasons cited:


No academic benefit - Fort Worth School Supt. Thomas Tocco  said year-round schools had not proven more effective than regular schools."

The big promise of year-round schools has not been realized," Tocco ]said in a Fort Worth Telegraph story, Feb. 10,  1998. "I thought test scores would improve and they really haven't that much. I'm surprised, because I really thought they would do better," he said. 

"As long as we've been on year- round schedule, we haven't improved academically," said Stripling Middle School Principal Lynda Haynes told the Fort Worth paper. 

bullet Attendance declines - Tocco said year-round school related attendance declines were evident at some middle and high schools on the traditional school year because older siblings stayed home to care for younger ones during the  year- round school frequent breaks. 

In the four years Stripling  Middle School was on the year-round calendar, attendance  dropped at the beginning and end of the year-round school year, the principal said. 
-"Year-round schooling on wane," Forth Worth-Star Telegram,  Feb. 10, 1998 and April 22, 2001 

Alternatives to Year-Round School  
for Junior High and High Schools

When a school district is faced with a serious overcrowding problem, they are often tempted to use the quick fix of a multi-track year-round calendar to expand classroom space.    The multi-track calendar is extremely difficult to administer at the junior high and high school level, and  can create serious education inequities and segregation problems. (See: Important Studies.) There are better alternatives. 

Here are some ideas.

1) Reshuffle/redistrict the elementary school population to free a building for another junior high
A district could reshuffle the elementary school population, either by redistricting or reshuffling the elementary classes to other buildings  to free a school that could be converted to a junior high. It is easier to find classroom space to accommodate elementary kids than junior high kids. In Jacksonville, Fla., the school district from time to time has rented church building Sunday School classrooms to house elementary kids when there was an overcrowding situation. Your school district could do the same to free space in elementary schools and convert one school to a junior high. Elementary kids can also be housed in community buildings, park and recreation building facilities with some minor renovations.

2) Portables
Expanding capacity by using portables is an obvious  answer, although only a temporary solution to overcrowding. 

3) Dual enrollment for high schoolers in junior colleges
Allowing kids who are capable of attending classes at  the local junior college in a dual enrollment program is one way to expand classroom capacity for a school district. Depending on how large your district is, this could result in a shift of a junior high grade to a senior high.

4) Sixth-grade centers or Ninth-grade Centers
One approach might be to establish sixth grade  or nine-grade centers at one school, in which all kids in the district are bused to one school. This would relieve the capacity at the junior high  and high schools, limiting the classes to 7th and 8th grade, and thus making more room. Sixth-graders are still immature, and often have trouble adjusting to the junior high with older kids. They are less likely to be bullied by older kids in this setting.  Studies indicate  ninth-grade is a critical transition year, a make or break year for future academic success. Some schools are now experimenting with nine-grade centers as an intervention. Using this approach can also relieve overcrowded high schools while  possibly improving education. See:

5) Industry-based elementary classes
Some large corporations are now housing early grades on their corporate campuses. In Jacksonville, Fla., for instance, a large bank has established such a school.  This also helps the industry in that the on-site school is an incentive to attract workers with young children. It also frees capacity in the district's elementary schools. That makes shifting school populations easier. A handful of corporations with schools on their business grounds could relieve enough space in elementary schools so that one building could be converted to a junior high. Again, conditions in your community have to be right for this to happen. Also, tax incentives for those industries that do this would encourage more participation. There is a growing move across the country for pre-K and all-day kindergarten classes, which put further  pressure school capacity.  These two grades could easily be housed at various industry locations.

6) Creative school housing solutions
See this USA story-

Smaller schools housed in alternative sites have proven to be a viable solution to school overcrowding, according to a report by  the Humphrey Institute's Center for School Change, an educational research group.

The report, prepared for the U.S. Department of Education's National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, is based on findings at 22 school in 12 states, pared from a group of 100 such schools. The study  found that schools that share facilities in these alternative settings often offer students broader learning opportunities.  Here are some examples  outlined in a  Sept. 10, 2001 USA Today :

bullet"A public school located in the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., where students can compare marketing and advertising strategies and study other business practices.
bullet"El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice, which occupies a former church in Brooklyn, N.Y. The school shares space with a variety of community development and service programs, including a health and wellness clinic, career and guidance services and a program to help community residents learn to speak English.
bullet"The Arizona Agribusiness and Equine Center, which shares space with South Mountain Community College in Phoenix. High school students have access to college facilities, including a fitness center and lounge area, and also can take courses from college faculty.

The Humphrey Center report says smaller schools generally are a safer place for students, get better achievement results and graduation rates increase. These smaller schools at alternative sites also  have lower rates of  discipline problems. 

Updated Sept. 21, 2001

Too Little Too Late: Summer School 
AND Year-Round School

By Billee Bussard

Written June 2001 in response to a May 23 Education Week commentary 
by the president of the National Association For Year-Round Education

In the on-going war of words over the best remediation solution for at-risk kids, beware of the year-round school Trojan Horse.

It is a horse of many colors, disguised by several labels including: “the balanced calendar,” “the continuous learning calendar,” and  “the modified school year.” All offer up a hollow promise of test score improvement, cost savings, reduced absenteeism and other social benefits.

In a May 23. 2001 commentary in Education Week, “Is Summer School the Answer or the Problem?” Marilyn J. Stenvall, then executive director the National Association For Year-Round Education, offers school calendar reconfiguration as a better remediation approach.  She likens summer school programs to “summer prison, where youngsters have committed the crime of failure and are sentenced to a cell of like offenders to do their time.”

While summer school isn’t the right answer, experience and test scores show the year-round calendar isn’t a better solution. BOTH approaches are too little too late.

The year-round calendar similarly “sentences and incarcerates” children, only more often than the summer school remediation approach. With a year-round calendar, which breaks up the same 180 school days with frequent vacation breaks and a shorter summer vacation, at-risk children are “sentenced” and “punished” with more time in school.  They can be condemned to spend all of their vacation time in year-round school intersessions. It’s a system that reinforces feelings of failure more often. It’s a system that fails to deliver.

A century of year-round school experiments in this nation has failed to produce a credible body of research to show the year-round calendar improves performance.  Most academic reviews of the research conclude that year-round school is, at best, an inert intervention.

At worst, the year-round calendar may be  “academically damaging.”  Those are the words used to assess the wide use of  the year-round calendar in California urban schools in lawsuit over education inequities filed last year by the Mexican American Legal Defense Education Fund. 

The lawsuit claims are supported by data in a study from the University of California Riverside, in which a father and son team of researchers found a multi-track year-round calendar, used in California and elsewhere to address overcrowding, segregates by ethnic, racial and socio-economic groups and produces patterns of education inequity across tracks. Interestingly, the researchers found the highest test scores on a multi-track schedule that most resembles a traditional school calendar.

Several major government or government-associated studies produced since a 1986 National Governors’ Association report  endorsed the year-round calendar have served as catalysts for a wave experiments.

One of those was the 1992 Southern Growth Policies Board report titled: “Year-Round Education: Restructuring Schools to Complement a Changing Economy.” Nearly all of the 37 year-round school experiments then ongoing in Southern Growth member states have since returned to a traditional school year. Most of the “model” year-round schools singled out in that report dropped the year-round calendar.

Some of the most damning evidence to date about the remediation merits of the year-round calendar is found in study by the department of education of North Carolina, one of the 13 Southern United States and Puerto Rico that compose the Southern Growth Policies Board.

A March 2000 study of 345,000 test scores by Bradley McMillen of the North Carolina Department of Education, Division of Accountability Services, found no academic advantage for those North Carolina students forced to go to school year-round.  The North Carolina study is the largest and most comprehensive performance comparison to date of traditional calendar vs. year-round calendar students.

The findings in the North Carolina study also provide figures that should concern taxpayers about spending money on a longer school year.  A majority of North Carolina year-round schools make the “intersession sentence” mandatory for at-risk kids. These children received perhaps as much as an extra month of classroom instruction time, but the study shows they did little better academically than the at-risk kids at North Carolina’s traditional calendar schools.

Ample proof of the futility of calendar change  is also found in experiences of  hundreds of school districts across the nation.

Over the last five years, two thirds of the year-round public schools in Texas have dumped the calendar, according to the Texas Education Agency  (see:  Texas is down to just 114 from a peak of 359 year-round schools in the 1996-97 school year. Some Texas schools, like others around the nation, have used a year-round calendar in hopes its mid-summer school start date, which provided more instructional days before testing, would improve scores. But a study by the Dallas school district found no correlation between more instructional days and higher test scores.

When Florida experienced a similar dramatic exodus in the mid 1990s,  the year-round school marketers dismissed it as  “an anomaly.”   Today, about 30 schools in the state still hold onto a year-round calendar after hundreds dropped it. Pensacola, the largest Florida year-round school district, just dropped all 10 of its year-round schools, citing high costs.

  One of the most significant blows to the year-round school movement occurred earlier this year (March 2001) in Murfreesboro, Tenn., with the defeat of a proposal for district-wide year-round school in Rutherford County.  One of the school board members pushing hard for it was John Hodge Jones, none other than the man who chaired the federal commission on time and learning, which produced the 1994 Prisoners of Time studies.  Shortly after those reports appeared, Jones became a board member of the National Association For Year-Round Education. Shortly after the release of Prisoners of  Time, one of the two “model”  elementary year-round public schools spotlighted  returned to a traditional calendar.

A Murfreesboro grassroots organization that did its homework on the year-round calendar provided school board members with convincing evidence that calendar change was not a solution for improving schools or saving money.

During the course of the heated debate there, a historian stepped forward with information to refute the often repeated myth that the traditional school year is an outmoded “agrarian” calendar. 

The cotton pickin’ truth is that the move toward a mid-summer school start resembles the Depression era school calendar that was arranged so children could help harvest cotton, Nell Blankenship, past president of the Rutherford County Historical Society, told a Murfreesboro newspaper reporter. She noted it wasn't until the 1950s when the school year started after Labor Day. “We've just gradually worked back to July. Each year we go a little bit further back to that calendar of the 1930s.”

Even in California, which has housed as much as 80 percent of all year-round school students during the last three decades, there has been an exodus from the year-round calendar as fast as new schools can be built to address rapid school population growth and classroom overcrowding problems. Media and other sources indicate at least 800 California year-round schools  were terminated or since the 1970s. (A partial and growing list of those school districts that have rejected a year-round calendar is now posted on a new website:

It’s time to shift calendar experiment money to more immediate interventions during a traditional school year.  Respond quickly to kids who fall behind with after-school programs, school tutors, smaller class sizes for slow learners, classroom assistants for teachers and Saturday classes.

Put at top of the list of interventions more teacher training and better curriculum. That’s what worked for  Hutto, Texas, which actually reduced the number of days in its school year.

Hutto’s approach since 1992 has been to shift money from classroom instruction days to teacher training and curriculum. School days have been trimmed to as few as 165 over the last decade, yet test scores have increased or remained steady every year. Hutto’s only elementary school has become a designated model school for the state. [For more information, contact Ben Carson at (512) 759-3771.]

Clearly, more of the same kind of instruction is not the answer.

BOTH summer school and the year-round calendar fail as effective remediation approaches. What’s worse, they rob children of important summertime learning opportunities that are critical to healthy growth and development. There are even important lessons to be learned from boredom and standing in long hot lines with family waiting to get into a movie or an attraction, says psychologist Peter Tarlow of  Texas, who is an expert on the interrelationship of leisure and learning.

School calendar reformers have failed to acknowledge that summer matters in many ways to American society and its economic success.  Where might we be today if a Seattle teenager named Bill Gates hadn’t had the leisure time of a long summer break to tinker with computers in his garage, or the Wright brothers  unencumbered summer days to dream and think about man flying?

In 1994, Dr. Leo Wisenbender of the Program and Evaluation office of the Los Angeles district, the largest year-round school district in the nation, summed it best:

“It is absurd to suggest that children aren’t learning during the summer.  It’s a different type of learning, which simply is not tested.”

Billee Bussard is editor of  SummerMatters!!, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based newsletter on school calendar issues, and, a website launched June 21 (the first day of summer). Bussard, a journalist for 22 years, began researching and writing on the year-round calendar in 1992, as an editorial writer for the Florida Times-Union. She is co-author with Suzanne McCrary of “Year-Round Education: Lessons Learned the Hard Way.” She can be reached at