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Last modified: Monday, May 14, 2007

Changing school calendar merits thought, but needs study

CEEP policy brief examines alternatives to the traditional school-year calendar

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 14, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As proponents of school reform consider whether the old school calendar still makes sense, researchers and school administrators should scrutinize alternative calendars and the use of the current school time, according to researchers at the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at Indiana University. The new policy brief called "Alternatives to the Traditional School-Year Calendar" is authored by Terry Spradlin, associate director for education policy at CEEP, and Shaun P. Johnson, graduate research assistant at CEEP.

Terry Spradlin

Print-Quality Photo

Rethinking the more-than-a-century-old school calendar certainly makes sense, Spradlin said. "One hundred and fifty years ago we relied heavily on agriculture, so it made sense in large part that children would have three months off to help harvest the crops and work in the fields to help their parents on the farm," he said. "Today, we have a much different economy."

Among the problems with the current calendar, Spradlin said, is the loss of knowledge many students experience during the three month layoff. "Summer loss," the report indicates, is particularly a problem among at-risk students. Twenty-one Indiana schools are on a year-round or extended calendar for the 2006-07 school year. Most of those schools are in areas with many at-risk students.

But the policy report indicates research on the outcomes of year-round education is sparse despite high levels of student, parent and teacher satisfaction with their experience with the year-round calendar.

"There's very little quality research available nationally, and we do think that we need to do a good job of evaluating the outcomes and the effectiveness of a year-round calendar," Spradlin said.

Some other Indiana schools are changing the calendar by adding as much as 30 days to the school year. Those schools, including some in the Indianapolis Public School system, are doing so with the intent of providing more instructional time for students. Again, little research exists to quantify the effectiveness of the change, although what research is available does cite benefits for at-risk students similar to the benefits of a year-round calendar.

"There is significant cost with every day that you add," Spradlin said. "You're extending the teacher contracts, you have higher cost of running your facilities, you have transportation issues, so there's certainly a greater cost. Research is needed there, too, to quantify a return on the investment that merits such a large increase in resources to go for those extended days.

"This should not dissuade school leaders from adding time, but they must ensure the additional time is spent effectively on engaged learning and that they measure student achievement outcomes," Spradlin said.

The brief recommends more study into how days in the current calendar are used. Research into efficient use of time at school the authors say, will help determine if additional days are needed.

"If time is not being used effectively on engaged student learning, then there's no real impact, and there will be no impact of adding additional time," Spradlin said.

The report also concludes that clear goals for changing the school calendar will help. Communication with parents ensuring change is in the best interest of students is key.

The latest CEEP policy brief is the second in a series of three examining how Indiana schools use their instructional time. An upcoming release will focus on how time is used during the school day. The full brief "Alternatives to the Traditional School-Year Calendar" can be viewed at http://ceep.indiana.edu/projects/PDF/PB_V5N3_Spring_2007_EPB.pdf

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. To learn more about CEEP, go to http://ceep.indiana.edu.

Terry Spradlin can be reached at 812-855-4438 and tspradli@indiana.edu.

The following mp3 audio soundbites are available for download on the School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu/audio.html.

Spradlin says the old calendar may be behind the times:

"Our times have changed, our students have changed, the face of our nation's citizens have changed with immigration, and our economy's changed. A hundred fifty years ago we relied heavily on agriculture, so it made sense in large part that children would have three months off to help harvest the crops and work in the fields to help their parents on the farm. Today, we don't have that type of economy."

Spradlin says administrators should consider the money an extended calendar costs versus the return of education:

"The issue with extended calendar -- certainly there is significant cost with every day that you add. You're extending the teacher contracts, you have higher cost of running your facilities, you have school bus, transportation issues, so there's certainly a bigger cost. So research is needed there, too, to quantify a return on the investment that merits such a large increase in resources to go for those extended days."

The way schools use time currently should also be under consideration, Spradlin says:

"We need to look at how time's used within the school day, to make sure time's being used efficiently and effectively. If schools just add more time to the school day -- that's not necessarily a good thing. It's well-intended, but if time's not being used effectively on engaged student learning, then there's no impact, there will be no impact of adding additional time."

Spradlin says there's just not a lot of research considering all-year school:

"There's very little research available nationally, as the report documents, and we do think that we need to do a good job of evaluating the outcomes and the effectiveness of a year-round calendar."