Having looked at the academic and social/political issues around year round schooling, I think it is also appropriate to discuss some personal issues with year round schooling. To do this, let's suppose we were to agree that all the academic and political issues around year round schooling are neutral: there are no academic gains or losses, and no differences in financials. The question, then, is how personal opinions and preferences play into it.
It is reasonable to think that some families will have an easier time with child care if there is year round schooling, but it’s probably not possible to come to a definitive statement as to what segment of the population is better suited to year round schooling for logistical reasons. This once again returns us to the question of what is better: a longer summer break or distributed breaks in summer, winter and spring. While I earlier argued for outdoor experiences during school breaks, summertime is not the only the time the outdoors can be enjoyed.
Some people may content that summer break activities will shift and adapt to a new school schedule. For example, bike camps could be offered in April. Clearly this is possible but also likely to be undesirable. I was on a mtb ride this morning and passed about 40 kids in 4 different bike camp groups, all on the lower slopes of Mount Fromme. That most definitely is not going to happen between the months of October to May. I think most people or kids would rather do outdoor camps and activities during the summer, rather than in April when there is a good chance the weather can be rain and 12 °C. Furthermore, outdoor activities would be restricted to low valleys and ski activities, due to snow levels. Water activities would be out of the question.
I have also heard arguments that outdoor summer activities can be substituted with other activities like dance programs, indoor sports programs, and trips to warmer climates. All these suggestions make some sense, if you can afford them, but as a whole I think they are a poor substitute for summer adventures. Our own family has the following planned for this summer:
- Backpack trip to Cheakamus Lake
- Camping trip on Vancouver Island
- Camping trip in the Okanagan
- 1 week bike camp
- 2 week swimming lessons
- Backpack trip in Manning Park
- Summer Day camp
- Trip to the East Kootenays, Lake Windermere, Sun Peaks Resort
- Mountain bike trip in Revelstoke
- Beach days around Vancouver
Ultimately I think it would be a shame to lose the above opportunities. Obviously other families wouldn’t do as much as us, and some would do more, but I think it would be a waste to replace a season-dependant activity with one that is not. For example, a child could do an aquarium camp any time of year, even as an after school program, but camping can only comfortabely be done during a short period of time of the year.
I’d like to end this series with a thought that has come to me while reading various articles about summer school and year round schooling. It is common to read comments that “it is about the kids.” From what I've seen though and considering what the research tells us, the debate around school in summer is almost never about the kids, and losing opportunities for summer activities is not typically compensated for by spring or winter activities. In the end, I believe that arguments for year round schooling are based on finances and personal preferences at the cost of losing outdoor experiential learning. Year round schooling has precious little to do with actually improving what happens in school.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 00:12
In my previous post, I looked at some of the research and academic arguments around year round schooling. In today’s post, I want to comment on some of the social issues around year round schooling and how it might affect our communities.
I was born in a small town in BC, and growing up I had a healthy relationship with the outdoors. I have hiked many trails and kilometers in the Rockies, the Purcells and West Coast Range. I like to think that I have a decent understanding of our environment, and an appreciation for some very important aspects of our province and country. I feel that summer explorations that expand our knowledge of nature and the environment is crucial to sustaining a healthy relationship with the land. It should be our goal to encourage outdoors learning, formal and otherwise, as much as possible. To give a concise example of what I’m referring to, let me recount an experience I had two years ago. I was teaching 60 kids in grade 8 science. Part of the curriculum is the topic of water systems and we spent some time talking about glaciers. Despite being located in Vancouver, of the 60 students only two had ever actually seen a glacier. We were within 100 km of glaciers and all the spectacular sights and experiences that surround them, yet only two kids had any idea of what a glacier is really like. I wonder what kind of custodians of our environment we can have, if the future custodians are so far removed from what they are charged with looking after? Unfortunately, the more that we push school into the summer months, the less the experiential learning our kids will have - people tend to stay indoors during inclimate weather.
This year at school I casually asked my students what they thought of having year round school. For the most part the kids were in favour of it. This really surprised me and I probed further by asking what kinds of things they do in summer. Nearly all the kids replied with the same answer: nothing. My students do nothing in the summer. Maybe they’ll play some video games or go to a movie, but that’s it. No trips, no excursions to the outdoors. Nothing. And this wasn’t a low SES school, in fact it is one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods in BC. But the kids don’t do anything. I happen to think this is a bad thing, and is not something that we should promote or encourage. From what I understand, many of these families have expressed an interest in year round schooling to our school district. For me, this is not reason enough to move in that direction. Our elected public officials and trustees have a duty to guide and protect our society for an overall public good. Call it utilitarian or deontological ethics, or simply a social contract, it is what they are charged with. If our society is improved by allowing for summer explorations (and I think it is), then this is something worth fighting for, regardless if a minority take advantage of it.
A recent article in the Globe and Mail highlighted a new phenomena in our school systems: the increase of students attending summer school. Whereas summer school used to be used by students that are struggling academically, now summer school is used as a means to get ahead or improve marks to A’s or A+. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/are-kids-failing-at-summer/article4397211/
I see this first-hand at the school I taught at. Many of my grade 9 science students were going to take Science 10 in the summer, so that they could start their senior science courses (physics 11, chemistry 11, biology 11) in their main Grade 10 year. The same happens for math. To me, this is a sacrifice of the whole student for the goal of high marks or academic resumes. Again, our society is missing out on something if all we value and give credit for is traditional academic achievements. We should not be encouraging it.
Given that summer school costs are funded directly the Ministry of Education, it would make sense that the government would want to shift from summer school to year-round schooling in order to rid themselves of the expense. I wonder how much influence the MoE has in terms of encouraging year round school as a means to control costs. As a society and educators, starting with the MoE, we should be actively promoting summer explorations and experiences. Ironically, the families that like the idea of year schooling may find that their paths for getting ahead in school (as mentioned above) will be gone if and when summer school is replaced by regular school.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 17 July 2012 10:54
This is the first part in a 3 part series that I’m writing on what I believe are the reasons to stay away from year-round schooling in British Columbia. Through various initiatives, such as the BC Education Plan and local interest by school boards, we have the beginnings of a shift from our traditional September to June school calendar to a “year round” calendar. The specifics of how a year round calendar would work are not set, and the BC Ministry of Education has passed legislation that makes it easier for each school district to set their own calendar. The BC Edplan has been quite vocal in its support for new calendars, and there has been a reasonable amount of input from the public on the matter, both in favour and against the idea of changing to year round schooling.
My three part series is intended to address three issues that I feel are important when talking about year round schooling. First, I will critique the academic justifications for year-round schooling. The second and third parts will look at the social costs of year round school and how it will affect my own family. Hey, I’m going to be my own case study. It’s my blog, so I’m entitled!
I have heard several arguments for the case of shortening summer breaks in order to achieve better academic progress. These arguments are usually based on one of two ideas. The first is that students forget a lot during the summer, essentially losing knowledge, and that it takes a few weeks just to get caught up again. The second argument is based on research that indicates that summer breaks give lower social economic status (SES) students a disadvantage when compared to higher SES students. In other words, long summer breaks discriminate against low SES families.
There are typically a few studies quoted when referencing the issues mentioned above. Perhaps the best known research is from Alexander, Entwisle & Olson (2001). Their study is also the research mentioned in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers. Alexander et al. conclude that almost all students continue to learn (math and language arts) during the summer break. High SES students actually continue to learn at a rate that is the same as during the school year. Medium SES students learn at a slightly lower rate and low SES students learn at a very marginal rate. From this we can see the argument that summer breaks discriminate against low SES families. In the broad sense, it is also very interesting, and perhaps counterintuitive, that the many students continue to learn while on summer breaks.
Alexander et al. hypothesize that learning losses may be attributed to lower domain knowledge retention, and I think this makes sense. For example, during the summer a student may forget an algorithm for cross-multiplying fractions, but deeper and more meaningful conceptual understandings are probably not so susceptible to a loss of knowledge. I would contend that if our students are forgetting too much during the summer, then as educators we should be giving ourselves a hard look in the mirror and asking what the heck it is that we are teaching, or getting the students to learn. I believe that rote memorization and knowledge loss is a symptom of bad pedagogy, regardless of short, long or non-existent summer breaks.
The argument that shorter summer breaks will mitigate problems of knowledge loss or inequality is mostly without merit, in my opinion. To begin with, there is the research to consider. While I don’t wish to be political about this, the BCTF website has a decent annotated bibliography of the research on year round schooling, and for the most part the research does not show significant academic gains by switching to year round schools. In general, schools that switched from summers off to year-round, and vice versa, saw no significant differences in academic achievement. http://bctf.ca/publications/ResearchReports.aspx?id=5608
I think the idea that longer breaks are more harmful does not make much sense from the basic idea that any learning loss (or non-gain) is likely to be close to a linear relationship with time away from school. Of course this is an assumption, but it certainly is no worse of an assumption than any other. So if we know that students will have 90 days off from school every year, and that a loss (or non-gain) is proportional to time off, then the loss or non-gain would be the same regardless of when the time off is taken. For me, there is absolutely no reason to think that two 1 month breaks (for example) will mitigate problems caused by a longer 2 month break.
To conclude, there does not appear to be any research or logical reason why we would expect improved academic gains from year-round schooling. To use academic achievement as a reason for year round schooling is not only a weak position, I think it is actually detrimental to the debate because the argument exposes fallacies to the contrary. While it is easier to argue that long summer breaks discriminate against lower SES, there is not any concrete reason to think that more frequent shorter breaks will alleviate the discrimination.
Alexander K., Entwisle, D, Olson L. (2001) Schools, Achievement, and Inequality: A Seasonal Perspective, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis , Vol. 23, No. 2, pp. 171-191
This week we had our final exams, and I have all of my Physics 11 and 12 marks in. Overall the exam marks were extremely disappointing. The Physics 11 exam was 50 questions and my class average was 61%. For Physics 12, the multiple choice section was even worse with 51% average, while the written portion was much higher at around 85%.
It is difficult for me to understand exactly what happened with the exams. I think there are many factors that contribute the results:
- the last couple of weeks the students completely lost steam and motivation, with many school-based distractions and conflicts (lots of kids missing classes)
- my classes hardly did any MC questions during the year
- my teaching obviously did not leave the students properly prepared
- many of the Grade 12 students were not concerned with the test at all, only needing a 70% average to complement university admittance which they already have
Some colleagues have suggested that my SBG system with re-tests may not have prepared the students for a 1.5 hr exam, as they may have become reliant on re-testing. I think there could be some truth to that, and the SBG scheme leaves some other questions open which I will address in another post. The vast majority of my physics 11 students didn't do any re-tests. However, some of the students that did do re-tests did poorly on the exam, and I think this was the most disappointing thing for me overall.
Some students also compared me to other teachers (which I asked about), and gave some reasons why other classes may have better results. Some students think that if they are tested more often for more marks, they will work harder. For example, other classes (not just physics) have quizzes every day, pop quizzes, and longer tests with lots of multiple choice questions. In contrast, I had frequent small quizzes with 4 written questions per quiz. I did not have students hand in homework, nor did I perform homework checks. Well, I would always ask about the homework but I did not give or deduct marks for completing homework.
I suppose it's predictable that students may not work as hard in my physics 11 class, as the overall grade is low-stakes and the students are not constantly pressured to produce work for a mark. However, I really dislike the idea of using behaviorism in order to achieve a educational outcome. Am I doing the students a disservice? Possibly.
There is one question that still remains though. I'm not convinced that my students actually know as little as the exam would indicate. I think there is some truth in that my students are simply not great at doing a long MC physics exam. My reaction to this idea was that next year I would prep a bit more for the exam by doing a bit more MC quizzing, and doing at least one "practice" exam at the end of the year. But then I got think.... Really? I'm going to spend time getting the kids ready for a MC exam because? When will they ever have to do/see a MC exam or test again? Other than high school sciences, probably never. Ultimately the MC format seems like a colossal waste of time, if time is specifically spent preparing for the format itself.
Maybe the above point is misleading though. Maybe it wasn't a problem with MC exams. Afterall, many of my top students still performed at the top. Maybe it ultimately comes down to my students simply not knowing the material well enough, such that any type of summitive assessment would produce poor results. I will have to do some strong evaluation on how I assessed this year. It doesn't sit well with me that my terms marks (from labs, assignments and quizzes/tests) are so much higher than the exam marks.