on education

thoughts from a graduate student at the university of mary washington

class time and student achievement. week ten.




A newscast about year-round school offered at one elementary school in Ralston Public Schools, located near Omaha, Nebraska. Parents, teachers, and students all seem to be on board with year-round school. But does it work?  Are there other options?


“Several national reports, including A Nation at Risk and Prisoners of Time, have recommended providing more time for teaching and learning. Possible approaches include extending the school year, lengthening the school day, or offering after school and summer learning programs” (Orenstein, Levine & Gutek, 2011, p. 520). Below, I’d like to go over some options in this vein for extending class time and what research has shown.

The standard school calendar is 180 days. There are 365 days in a year, which leaves students with 185 days that they aren’t learning. Accounting for random student holidays and weekends, there is still a 3-month gap with no instruction whatsoever. This time is critical, especially for at-risk students. In his article, Why and How Communities Should Focus on Summer Learning, Ron Fairchild explores the origins of the school calendar. While it is a common understanding that our calendar is based entirely around an old, agrarian society and calendar, Fairchild argues that our 180-day, summers-off calendar actually stems from schools catering to wealthy families that would frequently flee large cities during the summer months. This was due to “heat, threat of communicable diseases, and poor municipal sanitation during the early 1900s…” (Fairchild, 2011). His main point is that since times have changed, so, too, should the school calendar.

Even though there are numerous studies indicating that this huge gap in instruction time is bad for students, especially at-risk, working-class students, there has been much resistance to changing this calendar. Fairchild argues that this is because of substantial business interests in keeping summers learning-free. For example, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions supports lobbying efforts to keep the school calendar the same (Fairchild, 2011). Do you really want our students’ learning time being dictated by Six Flags?! Here’s the scary part: “In the past decade, it has been successful in restricting the official start date of the school year to September in over a dozen states. The association also funds The Coalition for the Traditional School Calendar, which fosters grassroots opposition…by middle and upper-income families…” (Fairchild, 2011). Are you kidding me?! I had no idea! Did you?!

Ultimately, Fairchild goes on to say that even though there are a few driving forces behind this aversion to changing the school calendar, cost is ultimately the most important. He gives facts and figures for students in Boston, stating that adding just 30 days to the school calendar would cost taxpayers an additional 155 million dollars (Fairchild, 2011).

But, this is the evidence: most students suffer some loss during the summer, but low-income students suffer the worst. On average, they lose over 2 months of reading achievement each summer! Middle-income students are more likely to actually make gains, making the disparity even worse when school finally starts up again. “All students, regardless of family economics, lost roughly equal amounts of math skills over the summer…” (Fairchild, 2011). So, what’s his solution? If it isn’t financially feasible to extend the school calendar, how do we fix this serious issue?

Summer school!

The results of the Teach Baltimore study, a 3 year study of summer school effects, found that “when such summer learning programs are begun early, before disadvantaged students have had the opportunity to fall so far behind, they can help prevent the anticipated growth in the achievement gap attributable to summer” (Fairchild, 2011). Fairchild also points out that many major cities and schools are actually partnering with non-governmental and public entities for enrichment and summer activities, such as universities and other community-based organizations. On average, programs like this that have been put in place cost significantly less than adding 30 days to the traditional, instructional calendar. The cost per pupil in that Boston figure was almost $2,800. These enrichment programs cost between $1,000 and $2,000 per pupil. They involve the public-private partnerships that I previously blogged about here.

Ultimately, Fairchild’s point is that in order to address the major educational inequity in US public schools, we need to re-think what we do with our summers and how we specifically involve low-SES students so that they gain, and not lose, critical achievement and knowledge.

The next bit of research I’d like to present you with focuses not on summer learning, but extending the school day with after-school programs. Researchers Ken Springer and Deborah Diffily studied 719 2nd through 8th grade members of the Boys and Girls Club in the greater Dallas, Texas area from 2009-2010. In their report, The Relationship Between Intensity and Breadth of After-School Program Participation and Academic Achievement, they found that participating in such programs positively affected GPA, especially for elementary students. However, they found that student achievement is only positively affected when students are very involved in such programs (Springer & Diffily, 2012).

In other words, students only demonstrated substantial gains when they not only went to the program multiple times a week, but spend a good deal of time each day in the program. In the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Dallas, students are expected to complete any homework (which the club provides aids and tutors for) before they are allowed to engage in other provided activities, like sports or character building (Springer & Diffily, 2012). “Consistent monitoring and support of homework activities and the completion of homework in a group setting are the mechanisms that may link club participation to academic benefits, over and above any benefits conferred by participation in specific, academically-oriented programs (Springer & Diffily, 2012).

We’ve looked at both summer and after school programs. Which do you think is better? Or, do you think it would still be better to find money to extend the school year like the school seen in the video? Do you agree with the current 180-day school calendar?




Fairchild, R. (2011). Why and how communities should focus on summer learning. National Civic Review,100(4), 13-20.   doi: 10.1002/ncr.20079

Ornstein, A., Levine, D., & Gutek, G. (2011). Foundations of education. (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Springer, K., & Diffily, D. (2012). The relationship between intensity and breadth of after-school program participation and academic achievement: Evidence from a short-term longitudinal study. Journal of Community Psychology40(7), 785-798. doi: 10.1002/jcop.21478


posted under EDCI 506
2 Comments to

“class time and student achievement. week ten.”

  1. Avatar November 1st, 2012 at 11:40 am ocostello Says:

    Great post for the week! I really enjoyed reading it, especially because it was so different from my post. I think that year round schooling does sound like a good idea, because I know even as a student now, three months of down time and I am out of my school groove. But even more importantly, I think that after school programs are necessary. In one of the chapters we read it talked about students who are latchkey, meaning they go to unsupervised homes after school. If we have more after school programs than more students are being supervised and more students are completing homework, which will ultimately benefit the student all around. There are also some summer programs that exist that try and reach out to at-risk students, and I think that those programs need to be continued and expanded upon. Great read!

  2. Avatar November 4th, 2012 at 11:44 am Jordan Kroll Says:

    But…aren’t we all becoming teachers for those precious work-free summer months? What say you to the bright-eyed 23 year-olds out here who want to make a difference in these kids’ lives, but only from early September to early June? “Sorry, but these kids need you during the summer too”?…I don’t think so.

    Okay, I’m kidding; this was a really eye-opening post. I had no idea how much of an impact summer vacation had on student achievement, and I am really shocked that businesses that profit the most during summer months have such an influence (Not shocked in a “I had no idea big business was controlling the puppet strings of American democracy,” but shocked in a “I’ve never given this particular subject much thought” sort of way). I think that transitioning to a yearlong calendar (which still does incorporate several smaller breaks into the school year for all those vacationers and overworked teachers) would be a no-brainer if it could mean helping the students who need it the most, but I don’t really have any great suggestions on how to fund this type of an endeavor. I tend to think that the yearlong calendar would be more beneficial to students in the long run than the after school programs you mentioned (though I see merit in those as well, and they seem more realistically do-able). I say this because by the time students reach high school, they have so much to do each day, and they begin their days so early as it is, that jamming more activities in there could ultimately be harmful to the students.

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