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POLL: What Should the School Calendar Look Like?

Most schools in the area use the traditional school calendar, with almost three full months off in the summer. But that's changing in some areas to a year-round, or "balanced" calendar, with shorter but more frequent breaks.

Summer break has been a hallmark of student-hood for what seems like forever. 

But when summer comes around, parents who work have to find some place for their children to go. Enter summer school, summer camp, nannies, sitters, grandparents and children being left to fend for themselves.

Most schools in southeast Wisconsin and throughout the state remain on the traditional calendar, with almost three full months off in the summer, but some schools are bucking that trend. 

Brownsburg, IN, has moved to a balanced calendar with two-week breaks in fall, winter and spring, and eight weeks off in summer.  Some districts in Utah have moved to a year-round calendar due to space concerns. One Jordan, UT, official said the year-round calendar has increased school capacity by 25 percent, and saved them from having to build 13 new schools. 

There are pros and cons to both types of school calendars, as looked at by the San Jose Mercury News: The traditional summers-off schedule means a lot of hustling by parents to find summer care for their school-age children, and for some students having three months off leads to an academic slide.

Janes Elementary School in Racine was the first year-round school in Wisconsin. Students there attend school for 60 days and then have 20 days off. The school's academic year begins after July 4th and ends the third week in June. 

Year-round calendars are gaining ground, reports MSNBC. Over the past 10 years, the number of students on a year-round schedule went up from 1.5 million to 2.5 million in 2008. The story reports some experts believe as many as 5 million students could be on year-round schedules by 2012-13. 

The Obama administration reportedly supports year-round schooling, particularly because of the boost it appears to give lower-achieving students by keeping them from backsliding during the long break. 

"Society can't keep saying to schools 'have every kid perform better' when we don't have them here enough," said Charlie Kyte, president of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators. A few Minnesota districts have adopted balanced calendars, and many others are studying the idea.

-from MSNBC

And, if you think summers off is the way it's always been, think again. Slate took a look at the history of school calendars, and found things were all over the map.

Among the things Juliet Lapidos reported in Slate

  • Urban school years used to be much longer, clocking in at more than 225 education days per year, but students only showed up about half the time.
  • Rural school had school years split into two parts, with a winter and summer session so students could be home working on the farm during spring planting and fall harvests. 
  • School reformers worried the long school calendar was bad for children's bodies and minds, and physicians thought they were "too frail" for year-round education.

Tell us what you think by voting in our poll, and add more opinions in the comments.

Readingrocks August 05, 2012 at 01:34 PM
Totally agree, a 3 month summer vacation is a old fashioned, outdated idea. In Japan they only have a month off in the summer and look how far their kids are ahead of ours academically. My kids go to summer school every year. Not because they have to but because they become bored and restless and need the structure AND they learn new things.
rk18 August 05, 2012 at 01:36 PM
Completely agree with Diane Wagner and the others who said kids need time off and summers are important times for family. Our summers are way too short in Wisconsin as it is. Parents can still keep up academics in the summer, but kids need time to be kids and to have a break. I truly treasure all my memories of my childhood summers.
Angie August 05, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Before moving back to Wisconsin, we lived in the inner city of Chicago, and I have to say the public school i put my daughter in over there was the best I have seen yet for the elementary level.  I was so sad to pull her out.  Traditionally, it was not a good school and they have NO money, even I didnt want to put her in there at first, but then I realized that they were experimenting with different progressive educational ideas, and year-round schooling was one of them.  I really liked the year-round school, but I think it appeals more to people with immigrant backgrounds, or those living non-traditional lifestyles.  For example, there was a month off during Christmas break, where many people were likely to travel to their families in Asia or Latin America, etc.  Also, these people are less likely to worship long hot summer days like us white people. I don't think that it would be a daycare nightmare like one person said above, anymore than it already is!  Actually at our school each day was one hour shorter, they got out of school at 2:30ish, so they were probably in school for a few more days throughout the year to make up for that.  Maybe this type of schooling won't go over well in the suburbs, but I really hope it can pass in Milwaukee sometime soon.  I have seen it work, it can work here too!!!
Greendale Citizen August 05, 2012 at 02:16 PM
A balanced school year would still give 8 weeks off in the summer and longer breaks throughout the year. Our country is sadly lagging behind foreign countries when it comes to educating our children.
CowDung August 05, 2012 at 02:24 PM
The Japanese school year goes from April until March. They get a month off in the summer, a month off in winter and a month off in March. Altogether, they have a similar number of days in a schoolyear.
CowDung August 05, 2012 at 02:26 PM
...and many schools in Japan do not have air conditioning either. Their summers are warmer than ours, and they seem to be able to cope well enough. Most of their schools also don't have a central heating system. During the winter, they put oil burning stoves in each classroom to provide heat.
3393 August 05, 2012 at 02:32 PM
In my humble opinion, education isn't slipping because kids are off in the Summer. It's because of other factors including the unions. When it's nearly impossible to get rid of lousy teachers and excellent teachers can't be rewarded, no wonder it's slipping.
Randy1949 August 05, 2012 at 02:40 PM
I'm not sure why. My school year was only 180 days, with a much longer summer break than we have now, and oddly enough I managed to learn to read and write properly. How about we focus on effective use of the time students are in school rather than merely providing free day-care?
Randy1949 August 05, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Education is slipping because of factors that are beyond the control of teachers. There is a pervasive lack of intellectual life in the homes, and parents are too busy to simply parent. Children's lives are regimented from the cradle -- they never learn to organize their time for themselves as they're rushed from day-care to organized activity to school and back. A lot of learning used to take place informally during unstructured time.
3393 August 05, 2012 at 04:09 PM
I agree about the lack of parenting by some, but the unions iron fist is a huge factor in the demise of public education.
mau August 05, 2012 at 04:31 PM
Janes Elementary and Gilmore Middle School were supposed to be the 2 year-round schools. Gilmore was a flop due to lack of interest. They spent a couple million air conditioning and setting up a computer system for scheduling year-round. Tell me a school in Racine that isn't air conditioned.
Sunrocket August 05, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Back in the olden days - when I was in school (I graduated HS in 1978) we were in school day after Labor day until mid June. Until we were old enough to get jobs perhaps there was a summer school class or two but the rest was well deserved free time to explore and play unsupervised by adults. There seem to be more early release days and inservice days and just general days off. Kids are so over scheduled with activities year round. I think they need what little of summer they are allowed to have sans organized time. Kids need to just be kids and sometimes that needs to be lack of adult supervision as well. We seem to be raising little robots with no input from the kids themselves on whether they want all these activities and structure. Sure they need structure, absolutely but 12 year olds doing homework until midnight because they had a soccer game and the volley ball practice just doesnt seem to make sense. I fear we are going to have several generations of adults that are so darn tired from being over scheduled and over supervised in their youth. I really beg parents to take a step back from their kids sometimes.
robert August 05, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Lost in all these posts is the fact the months of summer off are a throwback to the days when America was rural. Kids were needed around the farm to help with planting, reaping and other farm chores in prparation for winter. Couple that fact with the fact the US lags the industialized world in most test scores of our children. These facts alone speak as to why a year round or more proportional school year is needed.
Leeann Rose Boone August 05, 2012 at 05:11 PM
When I was in school we went from the first week of September until the second week of June and had the rest of the summer off. I did just fine with the 8 weeks off. My parents made me practice my flash cards for math atleast once a week and I was in Summer School until 3rd grade. The AC went out the day before school started when I was in fifth grade so I know what its like to be stuck inside an un airconditioned school when it's 80 something degrees outside which makes it 90 something INSIDE! Got so bad that the Principal turned off ALL the lights in the building for like 30 min a day until they were able to get the AC working again! What about the kids who have divorced parents living in different states? They spend the school year with one parent and the summer with the other? That being said, as much I as loved summer vacation I was always bored out of my mind by the end of July!
M.S. August 05, 2012 at 05:40 PM
Summers are a time for exploration, family trips, day trips, summer programs that spend onger blocks of time on anything from remediation to extension courses, etc. THese are the experiences that expand the creative mind, and develop connections between schoo and the real world. THese are what make true learning and understanding stick.
Kirsten Lee August 05, 2012 at 06:32 PM
When this country did have more students living on farms, the kids did attend school during some of the summer. Students had time off in spring to help plant and in fall to help harvest. Those farm kids attended school year-round with with multiple breaks.
CB August 05, 2012 at 08:52 PM
Leave it the way it is. Our education system is not broke. Perhaps our American family unit is...not education. Support your children, read With them, take them places, eat with them, teach them respect and morals by setting the right example, and stop blaming others. If we want to compare education schedules with that of Asian countries, we would have to compare their respect for education as well. One would also have to understand that most schools there are boarding schools and are run much differently so when you are making statements, it would be good to really think of the big picture.
Angela Rester August 05, 2012 at 09:07 PM
As a former 2nd grade teacher, I have been an advocate since the 70's for year-round school years. ALL students have the potential to backslide with 2-3 months off but especially those who don't have good support toward learning during the summer months. It often took 1 month or more to bring a class's skill/knowledge levels at the beginning of the school year to be that with which they left the year before. Most parents and teachers object to year round for all kinds of reason but those districts who switched even a decade or longer ago have found students don't have the high level of "back-sliding" and parents actually like the ability to schedule vacations at various times of the year. Air conditioning is a concern but even this year, it was HOT before the school year finished. IF we are truly concerned about young people's continued learning and what's best for them from an educational perspective then we certainly should be finding ways to make year-round school a reality.
Dave Koven August 05, 2012 at 09:48 PM
Leave the schedule the way it is now. Turn off the electronics and let the kid learn to use his/her own imagination. Sports should be on a "pick up" basis. You don't need a coach, uniforms, and pizza parties after every game. Let the kids solve their own problems about rules and procedures. This worked for your parents and grandparents, and it will work for your kids. "Unsupervised" kids are not a worry as much as you might think. Just because someone is bored doesn't mean they have to get in trouble. If they do, give them the good old fashioned parental "what for" that they won't soon forget. Even that is a learning experience though. Kids are "blackmailing" their parents by acting up if they're bored, or "forgetting" what they've learned in school. That's poppycock. They either learned it or they didn't. Parents' workplaces have been so speeded up electronically that they're burned out at the end of the day. They feel guilt for not being the best of parents so they agree to all manner of unneeded things for their kids. They turn more and more of what the family used to teach, over to the schools, and then they complain about the way the school teaches them. European workers seem to get way more unfettered time off than American workers do. Since workers aren't going to get more pay these days, they ought to hold out for more time off. Sometimes, the old ways ARE better than the new. This is one of those times.
Jon Anne August 05, 2012 at 09:54 PM
I understand every child is different, but am I the only parent whose kids are restless and bored by the beginning of August? After a couple of months away from school, they are ready to return to the structure and social routine of the classroom, even younger ones. This "balanced year" proposal doesn't eliminate summer vacation, it just shortens it to two months instead of three, and builds that time back in to winter and spring, likely around the existing winter and spring breaks. I love the idea.
Sara Kaufman August 05, 2012 at 10:11 PM
Ditto Jon Anne... Like all here, my first priority is my children, and with that, I love the idea of year round school. I can see my boys, ( and their teachers), burning out and needing a re-charge during the school year. Having longer breaks during the year would be valuable for both the ability to energetically teach ... And to energetically learn. From what I observe, more breaks are healthy throughout the year, and kids are naturally eager to get back to school half way through the summer. Going year round doesn't need to change the number of hours our kids are in school, and so doesn't take away from family time, vacations, etc. it just evens things out and gets rid of the binge and purge cycle.
rh August 05, 2012 at 11:22 PM
Interesting take. The duct work is there. Put in a/c. While all the rest of the world is moving forward, we'll be out playing. We're trying to raise people to live an act as adults. We aren't raising children to be children.
Muskego Resident August 06, 2012 at 12:36 AM
A few thoughts -- year round school does not equal more days of school. The kids would still go the 180 that they do now. I think going MORE than the 180 days of school would be more beneficial than spreading those 180 days throughout the year. Additionally, teachers, the union, and summers off are not the sole causes of educational decline in this country. A huge cause are parents who refuse to read to their kids or work with their kids and let electronics babysit their kids. Kids today are very different than they were 30-40 years ago. They can't sit still without constantly being entertained. Also, poor families who cannot afford to expose their kids to experiences outside the home, also tend to struggle with school. Yes, September is typically review of the previous year, but honestly kids who do well academically will always do well, kids who struggle academically will most likely always struggle. There have been studies that year round school doesn't have much impact on student success. The Journal Sentinal reported on this not too long ago. Finally running air conditioning in a school all summer is expensive. Guess who is going to pay for that -- hello, taxpayers! Since most have shown that they are not willing to put forth any more to improve our schools, good luck getting them to agree to pay more for air conditioning!
Judy Pottinger August 06, 2012 at 05:01 PM
I think that 8 weeks of summer with longer spring, fall and winter breaks is a more balanced approach. Less backsliding of education, less burnout during the school year for teachers, students and parents, too, since this generation of parents is so involved in overseeing their children's homework. Also, It is really hard for working parents to find enough affordable activities in the summer and plenty of schools already have summer school in place, so, is it that much of a stretch to ask that go back 4 weeks earlier in the summer? They still would have 8 weeks of playtime.
Tia August 07, 2012 at 03:49 AM
I am all for a balanced school year, and I have from the beginning. Anyone want to start a campain, I'll help. Students would still have the same amount of instruction, just broken up throughout the school year. I can hear all of the teachers complaining already! We need to get with the times and help our children become better educated, not let them fall behind. It's not a babysitting issue, it's what we need to be competitive in education.
Tia August 07, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Hey Andy, we totally need a thumbs up or down for comments posted on the Patch!
Lisa Pelowski Leszczynski August 07, 2012 at 11:00 AM
Balanced school year is the way to go. Better education, more convenient for family vacations and savings for the school districts. My cousins had a balanced school year in California 20 years ago - it started because of crowding/lack of space - but they all agree it was a better learning experience.
John Seymour August 07, 2012 at 03:53 PM
Everyone who is saying a balanced school year is correct and teachers would go for it. The problem is the legislature controls the school year...not the unions as some would believe. The rule about starting after Sept. 1 came from the tourism lobby who wanted summer to last longer for more $$$$. That is what will hold back any changes. Try and convince the resort owners up north and the Dells that this is a good idea...it won't happen. Too much $$$ involved in summer tourism in WI.
Carolyn Tyler August 10, 2012 at 11:41 AM
Sarah, I agree.
Neeq79 August 22, 2012 at 09:20 PM
With parents complaining their kids forget over the summer...um, how about making them read a few books or for elementary kids, do those workbooks for specific grades you can find at book stores?? How about taking away their computer and iPhone time and forcing them to go outside, play, and learn? As far as babysitting, why not hire teachers, college, or hs students to babysit? Great time for summer camp! There are options to keep the kids learning and occupied, it's up to the parents to actually figure this out...summer comes around the same time every year!

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