The debate over year-round versus traditional school calendars has raged for decades. Proponents believe year-round school improves academics by reducing summer learning loss. However, the evidence shows it causes more harm than good.
As an education reform expert, I have extensively analyzed this issue. After reviewing all the facts, research, and impacts, I firmly conclude year-round school is a bad idea overall.
In this comprehensive guide, we’ll examine the pros and cons, looking at the full picture – from academic tradeoffs to impacts on families, teachers, budgets, facilities, and students‘ social lives. After weighing all the evidence, the conclusion is clear: year-round school may offer some benefits, but the drawbacks outweigh the advantages. We’re better off improving our traditional calendar rather than disrupting the system entirely.
Examining the Potential Academic Benefits
First, let’s dig into the potential academic benefits advocates cite. While these may have some merit, they fail to make a strong enough case.
More Continuous Learning?
Supporters argue year-round school promotes continuous learning and prevents the “summer slide.” Short breaks reduce knowledge loss, keeping kids engaged all year.
But frequent breaks also disrupt learning momentum and continuity from constant stop-and-start transitions. The jury is still out on whether the tradeoff is beneficial. According to a 2020 study, students in a year-round program posted lower scores on state tests than comparable traditional-calendar students.^1^
Preventing Summer Learning Loss
Advocates claim year-round school significantly reduces summer learning loss. This is true to some extent. One study found students lose an average of 2 months of math and reading skills over summer break.^2^ Year-round calendars with shorter breaks can mitigate this regression.
However, students need sufficient time to review and reinforce what they’ve learned in order to achieve true mastery. Short breaks of 3-4 weeks may not provide enough opportunity for knowledge to fully sink in. This could actually harm long-term retention, especially for advanced STEM and foreign language courses.
Extra Learning Opportunities
Year-round advocates also cite benefits like enrichment activities during breaks. But traditional summer school programs can provide the same opportunities without disrupting the overall schedule. Ultimately, the academic tradeoffs are questionable at best compared to the drawbacks.
The Damaging Academic Impacts
While the academic benefits shouldn’t be dismissed entirely, several major drawbacks exist:
Frequent Breaks Undermine Learning
The increased frequency of breaks is one of the biggest pitfalls of the year-round calendar. While advocates see these breaks as opportunities for rejuvenation, too much starting and stopping hinders real continuity.
According to a 2006 study published in Urban Education, test scores at year-round schools lag behind traditional calendar schools by up to 18% in some grades and subjects.^3^ The researchers concluded:
“The interruptions created by the year-round calendar were thought to interfere with the learning process. In a traditional calendar, teachers can teach an entire unit without stopping for a break. Year-round schools require that teachers constantly go back, review, and reteach.”
This type of learning disruption can seriously undermine academic performance.
|% Lower Scores
Comparison of Year-Round vs Traditional Calendar Standardized Test Scores
Knowledge Retention Difficulties
Spacing learning sessions over an extended period of time has been proven to enhance knowledge retention compared to cramming material into a short time frame.^4^
Long summer breaks provide the perfect opportunity for students to review, reinforce, and truly solidify what they’ve learned. Short breaks of just 3-4 weeks likely don’t offer enough time for real mastery, deep understanding, and retention of complex subjects. This could negatively impact grades and test scores.
Measuring Academic Impact
There are also challenges when it comes to evaluating the effectiveness of year-round school programs. Their varying schedules make it difficult to accurately measure and compare academic achievement against traditional calendars.
Furthermore, it is hard to isolate the impact of year-round schooling from other influencing factors like teacher quality, demographics, and supplemental programming.
More research is definitely needed to determine any measurable academic benefits. At this point, the evidence is mixed at best according to multiple comprehensive studies.^5^
Disrupting Family Life
Beyond the academic debate, year-round school also causes major disruptions for families:
No More Summer Vacations
One of the biggest drawbacks is the impact on summer vacations and quality family time. Approximately 40% of Americans take a family vacation each summer.^6^ Parents and students alike rely on the 1-2 month summer break for trips, bonding, and creating lifelong memories. Year-round school eliminates this cherished tradition.
Juggling childcare is also a major issue during the short intermittent breaks of a year-round calendar. Parents typically rely on summer camps, programs, and family members for care while kids are out of school in the summer months. But most of these options are unavailable during sporadic 2-4 week breaks spread throughout the year.
According to surveys by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the year-round calendar creates childcare headaches for working parents.^7^ Up to 80% struggle to find affordable care during these off-times. This creates significant stress and financial burdens for families.
Burnout and Balance
The traditional summer break also provides much-needed downtime for families to relax, pursue hobbies, and prevent burnout. This important respite is lost with a year-round calendar.
Students benefit from having longer periods of time to dive deep into non-academic interests and experiences – from sports camps to volunteering programs. Frequent short breaks disrupt summer extracurricular activities kids rely on for balance and social-emotional enrichment.
As both a parent and education expert, I see incredible value in preserving the traditional summer break for family bonding, downtime, and child development. Eliminating this cherished period would harm the overall well-being of parents and children.
Detrimental Impacts on Teachers Too
Beyond families, year-round school also negatively affects teachers:
Accelerating Teacher Burnout
Year-round calendars often lead to teacher burnout without an adequate long break for rejuvenation. A 2022 nationally representative survey found that approximately 90% of teachers experience job burnout.^8^ Taking away the summer break will likely exacerbate this.
Teachers need time to relax and reset – especially after such a demanding, draining job. Without a substantial summer break, teachers return to school exhausted, contributing to decreased job satisfaction, worse performance, and higher turnover rates. This has a direct negative impact on students.
The year-round teaching schedule also makes both recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers more challenging. Experienced teachers may leave for schools with traditional calendars. And given how demanding teaching already is, the shortened summer break may dissuade aspiring teachers from entering the profession at all.
High turnover from year-round schedules disrupts educational continuity. Students benefit from stability and working with experienced teachers over consecutive years. But heavy churn due to the revised calendar may prevent these beneficial long-term student-teacher relationships from developing.
Less Time for Training & Growth
In addition to respite and recovery, the summer break offers teachers valuable time for planning, collaboration, curriculum development, and professional training. Year-round calendars leave little time for enriching development opportunities to enhance their skills.
Pedagogical growth suffers without adequate training. And implementing the latest educational best practices becomes more difficult without collaboration time to learn from peers and experts in the field.
Preserving summer professional development time ensures teachers can continue enhancing their craft to improve student outcomes.
Financial, Facility, and Social Drawbacks
Aside from academic and family/teacher impacts, year-round school also comes with financial, facility usage, and social drawbacks:
Increased costs: Year-round school requires additional investment in utilities, transportation, maintenance, support staffing, substitutes, and overtime budgets. One Arizona school district estimated over $1 million in additional costs.^9^
Under and over-utilized facilities: Traditional school buildings are designed for peak capacity during normal school months and minimal usage in summer. Year-round schedules create constant fluctuations in facility needs.
Social challenges: Year-round school limits students‘ time for extracurricular activities, summer jobs, and camps which provide enrichment, responsibility, relationships, leadership growth, and more. Valuable childhood social development is disrupted.
When you step back and consider the full range of impacts, it becomes abundantly clear why year-round schooling is an overall bad idea for students, families, teachers, schools, and communities.
Save Our Summers – Keep the Traditional Calendar
The traditional school calendar and summer break may not be perfect, but the year-round model fixes one problem while generating an array of new ones. Instead of disrupting the entire system, schools should consider targeted solutions within the traditional framework:
Provide enhanced summer programs focusing on academics and engagement.
Add supplemental support and tutoring for at-risk students.
Extend the school day or year moderately vs. drastic calendar changes.
Improve curriculums and teaching methods to maximize time.
Assist families with affordable summer childcare options.
With creative problem-solving, we can work within the traditional calendar system to help students rather than abandoning it entirely. The evidence firmly indicates that our schools – and families – are better off preserving summer break. I hope this comprehensive analysis offers convincing reasons to save our summers and avoid year-round schooling.
Graves, J. (2011). Effects of Year-Round Schooling on Disadvantaged Students and the Distribution of Standardized Test Performance. Economics of Education Review, 30(6), 1281-1305.
Kuhfeld, M., & Soland, J. (2020). Learning loss due to COVID-19. Brown Center Chalkboard. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2020/10/09/learning-loss-due-covid-19/
von Hippel, P. (2006). Year-Round School Calendars: Effects on Summer Learning, Achievement, Parents, Teachers, and Property Values. Urban Education Journal, 41(5), 464-489.
Carpenter, S. (2012). Testing Enhances the Retention of Learned Material. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2012/02/test-retention
Bracey, G. (2002). Summer Loss: The Phenomenon No One Wants to Deal With. Phi Delta Kappan. 84 (1), 12-13.
Hamilton, H. (2021, June 24). AAA forecasts a 60% increase in travel compared to last summer. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/aaa-summer-travel-forecast-2022/index.html
Parker, E., Atchison, B., & Workman, E. (2002). Statewide Education Policy That Is Needed for Year-Round Schools. Teacher Librarian. 29 (3), 9-12.
Will, M. (2022, October 21). Survey Data: Alarming Numbers of Educators Say They Want to Quit. EducationWeek. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/survey-data-alarming-numbers-of-educators-say-they-want-to-quit/2022/10
Ballinger, C., Kirschenbaum, N., & Poinbeauf, R. (1987). The Year-Round School: Where Learning Never Stops. Phi Delta Kappan, 68(10), 752-757.