Response to Director Sharber's Q&A concerning the balanced-calendar proposal

By Dr. David Carleton, Franklin, Tenn.

As a professional educator at MTSU specializing in education policy, I read with interest the article by Williamson County Schools Director Dr. Rebecca Sharber in the Williamson AM on Jan. 4, 2005. She attempted to justify the proposed change of the county’s schools to a year-round calendar. I find Director Sharber’s justification for the proposed year-round calendar seriously deficient. Her entire article is online at the Tennessean's web site. Below, I have indented text when I cite her article. My response is in blue text.

SHARBER:

This traditional calendar remained in effect for many years, even as more and more families transitioned to work that was not involved in agriculture. Families began to fill the summers that were once needed for farming with fun summer activities. At some point, schools and districts began to make changes in the school calendar that seemed to work better for their students and their families. One change made in our school district was the decision that high school mid-term examinations would be better administered before the two-week winter break. That mandated the movement of the starting date for the school year to a date prior to Labor Day. This move was necessary to maintain two semesters of equal or almost equal length and still accommodate a Thanksgiving Break, MTEA day, staff development time, and possibly others. The one criterion that has consistently been desired in our district for many years has been the completion of mid-term examinations before the winter break.

RESPONSE:

It is unfortunate to see this line of argument about an “agricultural” calendar. This line has been pushed for years by the National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE), intended to cast the traditional school calendar as antiquated and a year-round approach as modern. The problem with the NAYRE line is that it is simply untrue.

I grew up in the suburbs, but even I know that the heavy workload on a farm is in the spring and fall, planting and harvesting. Go back and look at school calendars in the 1800’s when we had a predominantly agricultural economy. Kids were off for extended breaks in the spring and fall, so they could be home to help on the farm, with a much shorter summer break.

Think about that for a minute—it is the proposed “balanced calendar” that actually mimics the calendar our schools were on when we were all on the farm (see the 2001 story on this in Rutherford County’s Daily News Journal, reprinted at: http://www.geocities.com/weswalker99/cotton.htm).

What we now call the “traditional calendar” emerged only as we moved away from agriculture and urbanized. An extended summer break was seen as developmentally appropriate, providing needed down time for children (a point just as valid today).

Again, it is extremely unfortunate that Dr. Sharber’s backgrounder for the Board began with this canard.

In reading through the many sources of information about school calendars, it is difficult to find objective research to indicate that any particular school calendar promotes stronger academic achievement over the other. That should not be surprising since the school calendar was not organized around student success or student achievement in the first place. If Americans were serious about adopting a school calendar that promoted stronger academic success, we would increase the number of days that students are required to attend school. America has the shortest school calendar of all the industrialized countries. Some sources indicate that a shorter summer will lead to more academic retention by students, but little of the research actually demonstrates that to be the case. Some of the research citied often uses the moniker of year-round-schools. Therefore, care must be taken in trying to compare some of the research to the district's calendar discussion because in many cases the research concerns schools and districts on a multi-track system.

Studies do not show better retention for kids on year-round calendars. The work that is always cited (most often, Cooper et. al.) show that kids lose some skills/information over the summer. But, these studies do not compare a 10-11 week traditional calendar summer to a 7-8 week balanced calendar summer. They compare what kids know after a break to before a break, i.e., they compare retention with a break to retention without a break.

Virtually no work has been done comparing retention between traditional and year-round summer breaks. Psychological research, however, consistently shows that whatever we lose we lose quickly, in two or three weeks, with a leveling off after that (the distinction we all make between short-term and long-term memory). Given this, there is unlikely to be any meaningful difference in retention between 7 and 10 week summer breaks, though, again, this work hasn’t even been done.

• How do the parents in the community feel? A parent survey was administered using our telephone notification system. The results have been distributed to Board Members and also to the community via our website and the media. Briefly summarized, there was a 74% participation rate with approximately 50% of the parents opposed to the proposed calendar, 45% in favor and five percent undecided. The elementary parents were most in favor and the high school parents were the most opposed. The Board had previous access to the opinions of the teachers who were in favor of the proposal by a 2 to 1 margin. However, the high school teachers were evenly divided on their opinions.

First, there were severe methodological problems with the “survey” done, all of which—either by design or mere happenstance—pushed up support for the proposed year-round calendar. These flaws have been discussed before:

-1- The “survey” was done before many/most parents were even aware of most of the arguments regarding the calendar.

-2- What information was sent home was (a) very brief, and (b) one-sided.

-3- Parents were not given the option of voting FOR a traditional calendar, but, rather, were asked “yes-no” on “the proposed calendar.” Go to any methods textbook and you will see that asking “do you want X, yes or no?” is not the same as asking “do you want X or Y?” The former approach will ALWAYS generate a higher preference for X (whatever it is) than the latter approach.

-4- The “survey” was conducted by an automated phone system, where “Yes, I support the proposed calendar” was always option 1 on the phone. Again, go to any methods text, and you will see that whatever is listed as #1 on an automated system ALWAYS does better. This is why all serious automated surveys rotate the answers with each person called.

Again, each of these little points only served to bump up support for the year-round/balanced calendar, and yet it still wasn’t preferred by even a plurality (never mind a majority) of those responding. This was, after all, a yes-no question. Since “yes” garnered about 45%, that would make “not yes” 55%.

Finally, imagine if a different process was used. Say a couple of public hearings were held on the calendar issue before parents were surveyed. Say complete information (pro AND con) was provided parents on BOTH year-round and traditional calendars. Say parents were given two calendars, one year-round and one traditional, and asked which they preferred. Say, the phone survey listed the year-round calendar as option 1 half the time, and the traditional calendar as option 1 half the time.

There are two questions to ask about this imaginary process that could have been easily followed: 1) does anyone honestly think the process used was fairer and more complete than this proposed imaginary process?, and 2) does anyone honestly think that the year-round/balanced calendar would have garnered as much “support” with this fairer process?

• How would the proposed calendar overlap with the Williamson County Fair? The County Fair is scheduled for August 4 through 12. There would be an overlap. The Fair does not open during the weekdays until the evenings. However, since students would be in school, there might be some concern about the student participation in the Fair.

“There might be some concern” is a wee bit of an understatement. How many parents are going to let their children attend or work at the Fair on a school night? Homework? Out at the bus stop at 6-6:30 a.m.? Come on. Band students were doing the parking throughout the Fair—out there until the Fair closed down each night.

• How would teachers continue their education? Most of the local higher education institutions in the area were contacted. None of them viewed this to be an issue as they have already begun to make allowances for the various school calendars in the areas, they already offer coursework on weekends, or they have begun to offer online coursework.

The point isn’t whether the universities can accommodate a year-round calendar, it is whether teachers can accommodate their professional development with a year-round calendar. Right now, teachers can complete coursework at a time when they are not in the classroom five days a week. The universities will offer weekend and online courses, to be sure, but it means teachers will have to complete this course work WHILE they are teaching every day.

There are still only 24 hours in a day, and this creates an environment where something is likely, as a practical matter, to slip. Either the work in the courses being taken for professional development will slip, or the work in the classroom will slip. Things will not slip by design or intention, but just as a practical reality of there being too much to do in too little time.

Below, Dr. Sharber says “I would challenge anyone to try teaching for even a short period of time and see if they have the stamina to do what teachers are required to do.” And, so, we will now ask/expect that they complete professional development course work at the same time. Good idea?

• Are there segments of the community with inflexible vacation dates? We checked with Saturn and Nissan and neither of them demand vacation at certain times of the year that are incompatible with the Williamson County tradition or proposed balanced calendar. Those involved in the education industry, including higher education, currently have some of the most inflexible vacation times. Their options are generally the two week winter break, the one-week spring break and the summer break. There may be other businesses that have inflexible vacation dates, but we are unaware of them.

• What childcare options will be available? The YMCA and SACC programs would be provided during all breaks in the calendar for elementary schools where the programs are in place. The experience of other districts that have adopted a modified calendar has been that the childcare options adapt to the calendar followed by the school district.

This notion that “well, others will adapt” gets thrown out quite a bit—child care providers will adapt, summer camp programs will adapt, local businesses will adapt, non-custodial parents will adapt, families that don’t want a year-round calendar will adapt.

Obviously, people and organizations will adapt. Everything isn’t going to shut down; we will all soldier on. Do note, though, that “adapting to” is not the same as “liking,” “supporting,” “enjoying,” or “appreciating.”

The real question, though, is WHY? Why make people, businesses, child care, camps, parents, and kids adapt to a new calendar that offers no academic benefit? Why should all these folks have to adapt to something they didn’t ask for and don’t want, and for which there is no clearly enunciated purpose or rationale? WHY?

• How does the proposed calendar agree with the requests of the County Election Commission? During the 2006-2007 school year there will be a county wide general election on Aug. 3 and a state general election on Nov. 7. Neither of these election days has been placed in the calendar as a non-student day. One reason is because by placing them in the calendar as non-student days, the beginning day of school would have to be earlier than proposed in order to still have mid-term examinations prior to the winter break. There is a non-student day in November for staff development. That was inserted to accommodate the National Middle School Conference, which is in Nashville in November 2006. A non-student day would enable a great deal of participation by our teachers. Placing a non-student day in the calendar for future fall elections might be possible.

• How would the calendar affect summer alternative education possibilities for students? The schedule for the Tennessee Governor's Schools for 2006 has recently been released. All of these would end prior to the beginning of the proposed calendar. We have no way to know the beginning and ending dates of all possible summer camps and excursions. Certainly, students who currently have reservations at summers camps and other opportunities for the summer of 2006 would have a possible conflict with the proposed calendar.

This is a dodge.

-1- The Governor’s Schools will fit within the shortened year-round calendar summer, but barely. The Governor’s Schools have just been extended to five weeks long, and there is a gubernatorial push for and likelihood that they will be six weeks long in subsequent years. We want WCS students to excel and have these kinds of opportunities, but to do so on a year-round calendar will mean these kids will have virtually NO Summer break at all.

On a traditional calendar, these kids would get 2+ weeks off at the end of school, go to the Governor’s School, get 2+ weeks off, and then start the next school year. On a year-round calendar, the breaks before and after the Governor’s School will be largely eliminated. These kids will truly be going to school year-round. Refreshing?

Right now, these kids can have a meaningful summer break and attend the Governor’s Schools. On a year-round calendar, we will force them to choose one or the other.

-2- The WCS kids most likely to be going to the Governor’s Schools are also likely to be taking AP classes. Almost all AP classes already assign summer work for the students to complete. If a child is going to a Governor’s School, when exactly would this Summer AP work be done?

Right now, kids can go to a Governor’s School and take AP classes. On a year-round calendar, we will effectively force them to choose one or the other.

-3- The other major summer academic enrichment program is Duke University’s Talent Identification Program (TIP). These residential programs are world renowned and truly outstanding opportunities. Many WCS students have attended in the past; my older son attended last year. Duke just put up their schedule of programs for 2006. Either a year-round/balanced calendar or some “compromise” that moves the school start date to the first week of August will conflict with 50% of the programs offered.

Right now, kids can go to any of the Duke programs in science, literature, history, or humanities. On a year-round calendar, they will lose half these opportunities.

Yale University’s Exploration Summer Programs for high school students is another renowned program. They run two sessions. Session I will end on July 22, so if a WCS student can arrange a flight on the 23rd, he/she can be back in time for school on the 24th. Session II isn’t out until August 12, of course, so that is an opportunity lost entirely.

• How would the calendar affect student summer jobs? Many students who work in the summer also work during the school year. Some students would welcome the opportunity to be able to work during the calendar breaks. Other students would prefer things they way the currently exist. Student working jobs that are seasonal, such as life guarding, would find the season shortened. The students in some districts have experienced more employment opportunities during the calendar breaks because the businesses are able to allow their employees a different vacation schedule and employ students during their regular employee vacation times.

This is entirely speculative. No hard information or data is provided.

• How would the calendar affect summer school for students? A one-semester summer school could occur with the proposed calendar. We are currently working more diligently to assure that students complete their course work successfully during the school year. That should always be our goal. We are also working with credit recovery to help students complete courses without summer school.

A “one-semester summer school could occur with the proposed calendar.” Indeed, it could. But, as with the Governor’s Schools discussed above, these students would then be going to school virtually year-round. Time and again, we are told that while a year-round calendar doesn’t improve academic performance, it is nevertheless more “refreshing” for students. But, will it be more refreshing for academically advanced students who are taking AP classes and going to Governor’s Schools and going to Duke TIP programs? Will it be more refreshing for academically struggling students who need remediation and Summer school? None of these kids will ever get any extended break from school. None. Ever.

• How would the calendar affect teacher summer jobs? The situation for teachers would be similar to that of students. Those teachers relying on seasonal work would be negatively affected. Teachers working extended contracts for the school district during the summer would be given the opportunity to work during the calendar breaks and possibly the summer, if needed.

• How would the calendar affect high school sports? Some have expressed a concern that less money would be received for high school home football games played during the fall break. In the fall of 2005 we had a short, fall break. Four of our high schools hosted games on that Thursday night. Independence played Ravenwood and that was its third highest gate, second to the nights they played Brentwood and Page. Their fall break game receipts were better than the gate receipts of any gate at Page during the entire season. The fall break game for Page against Montgomery Central yielded the lowest gate receipts and they played none of our district games at home during fall. Centennial did not have a home game during fall break. The Franklin High School gate during fall break was significantly lower than their other four home games. Brentwood's gate was significantly lower than their first three games but was not their lowest gate. Fairview did not have a home game during fall break, but its lowest gate was still better than Page's fall break game. Ravenwood did not play at home during the fall break and their lowest gate receipts were better than any receipts at Fairview or Page and better than those at Independence during fall break. Other districts that have adopted a balanced calendar have enjoyed the ability to have extra practice time during the breaks. The students participating in sports during the calendar breaks do not have the full advantage the breaks might allow, such as travel. However, students participating in sports and other activities do not take advantage of the breaks offered by the current school calendar. For instance, we regularly have bands that choose to attend parades during Thanksgiving and winter breaks. We have basketball teams that choose to participate in tournaments during winter breaks. We have baseball teams that regularly travel during spring breaks to practice in warmer climates. We also have many clubs and teams that travel over the weekends during the school year to take advantage of participating in tournaments and other competitions. Students appear to make choices of activities based on their talent and interest and not on the school calendar.

No matter how you cut it, several weeks that students now spend playing/practicing during the school year will be shifted to “breaks.” Do students currently play and practice during some breaks? They do. Will the proposed calendar simply continue this process, as is implied in this handout? No. The proposed calendar will EXPAND the amount of play/practice during breaks quite significantly. It’s not just the same.

With regard to football, how would they enjoy “the ability to have extra practice time during the breaks”? Don’t they currently “enjoy” a couple of weeks of two-a-day practices before school starts to get ready for the season? Won’t these key practices be lost on a year-round calendar?

• Would there be an extra cost associated with adopting the proposed calendar? All of our district school buildings are staffed for the 12 months of the year. Activities occurring in nearly all of our buildings seven days a week, 365 days of the year. However, currently, during the break times, fewer of the rooms are used in many of the buildings than are used during the school session times. It does cost more to air condition the buildings that it costs to heat the buildings. However, if we were to make the decision about a school calendar based on the cost of heating or cooling we would need to consider starting school much later than we do, in order to avoids as much air conditioning as possible. The other cost that might be perceived in adopting the proposed calendar would be the cost of providing remediation or enrichment during the calendar breaks. The proposal at this point would to be use extended contract funds for the remediation and to charge a fee for the enrichment. Also, students would be responsible for their own transportation to the remediation or enrichment activities. The addition cost for utilities (gas and electricity) is approximately 6% more in July and August than in October and March, which would result in an additional utility cost of approximately $41,500 for a fifteen-day earlier start.

Let’s see—no numbers on what intersession programs will cost, no numbers showing that existing extended contract money will be adequate to cover these costs, no numbers on what “enrichment fees” will be. Do we think it will be better to get this kind of information before or after a change is made?

Research has shown that without transportation, attendance at remediation during intersessions is extremely low (there is a lot of research on this—ask the staff). To have an impact, a school district needs to provide transportation, driving costs way up. So, is the Board anticipating running an affordable remediation program that is ineffective, or an effective program that will be extremely expensive? And, again, isn’t this the type of discussion that ought to be held before a change is made?

• How would the proposed calendar interface with the school calendars of private schools and other school districts? During this school year, the private school in the area tended to have their own separate calendar with the beginning dates ranging from Aug. 16 to Aug. 29. Their other breaks were slightly different from each other and their ending dates range from May 19 to June 1. Our current calendar does not drastically differ from the private schools in the area, although non of the districts appears to be working to have the same exact calendar. The Franklin Special School District calendar is similar to ours, but also differs in some ways. The Franklin Special School District parents have expressed concern about having students in two districts on two vastly different calendars. The FSSD leadership has indicated an interest to assure that their families do not have students on vastly different calendars. Metro-Nashville recently announced a desire to consider a balanced calendar for the 2007-2008 school year.

There is a key point here—if WCS switches to a year-round calendar then the families in FSSD will almost automatically get dragged along too. FSSD parents are also Williamson County residents, and they will be impacted by the calendar decision, though they have had zero say in any of the discussion.

When FSSD surveyed parents a couple of years ago on this issue, what were the results? Poplar Grove parents obviously supported a year-round calendar. In the schools currently on traditional calendar, however, parents supported a traditional over year-round calendar by about a 60-40 split. All these families, however, will be impacted by a WCS decision.

• Why did we seek input from Maury County? Some members of the community believe that by asking for information from Maury County we made a decision to try and imitate Maury County. It is unfortunate that people would equate asking for information to attempting to follow. The School Board asked us to talk with other districts that had adopted a balanced calendar. Maury County is one of our neighbors and they adopted a balanced calendar. We gathered information from their experience. Gathering that information was not akin to deciding to follow their calendar adoption or any other activity they have pursued. We also fathered information from the superintendent of Tullahoma City School where the balanced calendar was adopted. In addition, I also communicated with the superintendent of Maryville City Schools. He indicated that they had one choice balanced calendar elementary school and that in the past he thought the balanced calendar was the best calendar, but many communities are highly resistant to that kind of a change. Therefore, their district has adopted a calendar with a one-week fall break and a full week at Thanksgiving.

The WCS administration appears to have only talked to schools/superintendents that chose a year-round/balanced calendar. There is no indication any discussions were held with those who looked or tried year-round and then rejected it. Getting both perspectives probably gives a fuller and fairer picture than seeking out only one side.

Moreover, it appears discussions were only held with schools/superintendents with a few months experience with year-round/balanced calendars. There are many schools/superintendents, however, with 10, 20, 30 years experience with these calendars. It would make more sense to talk to those with the most experience rather than the least—or at least talk to them both.

• Why do teachers need a two-week break two months after receiving the summer break when no other profession gets this? I don't believe that teaching can be compared to any other profession. Teachers do not have an option of taking vacation any time during the year that would best work for them or their families, or their other needs. Other professions have that option. I would challenge anyone to try teaching for even a short period of time and see if they have the stamina to do what teachers are required to do. Again, until America becomes serious about the education of children and increases the number of required days during the school year, then comparing teaching to other professions based on the length of the work year and the length of vacations is not an applicable comparison.

• How will the calendar breaks affect students with special needs? There is no conclusive answer for this. Some of the professionals are concerned about the two week breaks, although currently, there do not seem to be concerns expressed about the current two-week winter break. The shorter summers could actually be beneficial some of the special needs students.

This is a dodge.

There probably are concerns about the two-week winter break (and the summer break too) for some special needs children—continuity of services is a crucial issue for many of these kids. But, these concerns are irrelevant to the current discussion.

What is relevant is that the calendar being proposed would EXPAND (indeed, double) the number of multi-week breaks in which the continuity of special education services would be broken. Instead of two multi-week breaks (summer and Winter), these special needs students would experience four breaks in continuity with the year-round/balanced calendar.

• Will the balanced calendar increase the cost of administrator and teacher salaries? Currently our administrators are paid on a 12-month basis. Our teachers are paid on 200-day contracts. The calendar maintains the same contracts for both. Therefore there would not be a cost associated with salaries. Also other positions in the district are 11-month, 12-month, or student-day positions. The calendar would not change the costs of these positions.

• Has anyone studied the economic impact to local businesses? The experience of other districts has been that businesses in the area adjust to the school calendar. Some have expressed that the balanced calendar offers advantages that the traditional calendar does not offer. There has been no study of local impact regarding the balanced calendar proposal. Neither has there been a study to determine if the current calendar is appropriate for the local economy.

Indeed, the impact on the local business community has not been studied. Other communities considering a switch to a year-round/balanced calendar, by contrast, have bothered themselves to look at this before acting. It can be done. Why is it something that we in Williamson County can’t be bothered to do BEFORE making a change?

• Will the school buses be warmer in July? The Transportation Director has indicated that the school busses will be warmer in July.

Do we think this was intended as a factual question, i.e., will the inside of a large, un-air conditioned steel bus be “warmer” in July, yes or no? I suspect whoever posed the question was actually asking whether it’s a GOOD IDEA—sound, healthy, reasonable—to put kids in un-air conditioned buses, in July and early August, in Tennessee. Unfortunately, this wasn’t addressed.

• Why is the school district rushing to make this decision? The school district has had the same process for adopting an annual calendar for at least twenty years. The calendar committee makes a proposal to the Board and the Board either adopts it or modifies it and adopts it. The calendar is adopted sometime between November and February. The school district is not rushing this decision. There has been more input given on the calendar during this year than in all of the last 17 years combined. The Board is entertaining many points of view on this calendar. If the Board members were rushing this decision, they would have voted on the calendar during their November Board meeting.

This is a dodge.

Yes, the same process has been used for years. Of course, this is far and away the largest, most far-reaching, and most significant change in the calendar ever proposed. It’s a proposal that will impact—pro or con—every family, as well as day cares, camps, band programs, sports programs, many businesses, and so on.

It is not a “normal” or “typical” proposal. It calls for a more detailed and more thorough discussion. It demands a more meaningful process; normal channels are not adequate for this type of huge proposal.

Indeed, can anyone point to any other big change in WCS schools—grading scales, zoning, site placement for new schools—that has moved from first proposal to an implementation vote in two months?

• Will the calendar breaks be filled the projects and assignments to students so that in essence they are not actual breaks? The teachers will be asked to give the students real breaks. The calendar breaks occur at the end of the quarters in the school year. That should allow for breaks without carryover assignments.

They will “be asked” to provide real breaks; the calendar “should allow” for breaks without carryover assignments. How much work and how many projects currently come home over Thanksgiving Break and Spring Break? Why should we think new balanced calendar breaks will be any different (especially after a few years)?

Many of my neighbors have children attending Poplar Grove. Several complained this year, just in passing, of the projects their kids had to complete during this year’s fall break.

• How will the calendar breaks affect high school courses such as AP courses and their subsequent examinations? The students will have the same number of days prior to examinations that they currently have. Some of our most academically gifted students are in the AP courses. The breaks should not offer them an information retention challenge.

As noted above, most AP classes require students to complete extensive summer work. Will this work load remain the same, or will it be reduced commensurate with how much shorter the summer break is? I doubt any AP teacher will want to reduce the assigned work, and so these kids will just have to spend more time per day during the shortened summer to get it done. Once again, how “refreshing” will that be?

• How will custody issues be solved based on the change in the calendar? According to some of our constituents, some parents have custody of their children in the summer and the change in the calendar will affect the number of days they are allowed to spend with their children. We have no way of proposing a calendar that would accommodate the personal arrangements of all our constituents. We believe that different arrangements could be made; however, we acknowledge that making these arrangements might require court involvement.

“We have no way of proposing a calendar that would accommodate the personal arrangements of all our constituents.” This is completely backwards. Courts made these custodial arrangements precisely to accommodate the school calendar in the first place. These “personal arrangements” are accommodated just fine RIGHT NOW. Changing to the year-round/balanced calendar is what will CAUSE the problems.

It is nice that they “acknowledge that making these arrangements might require court involvement.” Time. Money. Hassles. Of course it will be the parents time, not that of anyone at WCS. And, it will be the parents’ money, not any money out of the WCS budget.

And, again, WHY? For a change that will bring no academic improvements.

This doesn’t affect my family, but it puts a real burden on other families in this community, and for no good reason. Making changes in custodial arrangements only adds new change and instability for kids who have already experienced great instability in home life. Why not ask some school counselors if it is helpful to add more instability to these kids lives.

• How do you account for the number of schools and school districts that have tried the balanced calendar and have reverted to the traditional calendar? Districts that have tried a balanced calendar have done so for various reasons and in various ways. Many of the districts that have reverted to the traditional calendar had used a multi-track year round calendar due to extreme growth and the inability to build schools quickly enough. When the need changed, the calendar changed. Many schools have adopted a balanced calendar in recent years, while others have adopted a more traditional calendar. Some people in some areas with a balanced calendar did not like it. Some people in some areas with a traditional calendar did not like it. Should we make a decision on changed in the school district based on other district's likes or dislikes?

Read this carefully. What it actually says is that NO research was done to find out what problems these other schools encountered. Unlike the pro-balanced calendar schools discussed above, none of these schools were ever called.

The “multi-track” line is a canard—the vast majority of schools that tried year-round/balanced calendars and then dropped it were NOT on multi-track year-round calendars. The vast majority were on single-track systems, exactly what is proposed for WCS.

I wrote the Board about this back in late November (in some detail), but, since it remains unaddressed, it is worth repeating…

 <>In the states with the MOST EXPERIENCE with year-round calendars, the number of schools abandoning the year-round experiment is extremely high. Indeed, in the last decade nearly 1,500 year-round calendar schools, schools with five, ten, fifteen years experience with the approach, chose to return to a traditional school calendar. <> 

A few examples from just our region of the country:

A) Texas has been one of the leading states, with very large numbers of year-round schools; to date, just shy of half (nearly 500 schools) have abandoned it and moved back to a traditional calendar.

 <>B) Florida has also been one of the leading states adopting a year-round calendar; to date, over half (totaling about 200 schools) have abandoned it and moved back to a traditional calendar. <> 

C) North Carolina saw a big movement toward year-round calendars, especially in the early 1990s. Since, fifty-seven of these schools have moved back to a traditional school calendar.

We’re not talking about a school here, or a few schools there, a few places where there may be unique or unusual local issues. We’re talking about 1,500 schools. These schools adopted and experienced a year-round calendar for years. They found there were too many problems and too few benefits, however, and so stopped and reversed course.

 <>I posed this question to the Board before: Does anyone in WCS know why hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of schools made the significant and difficult shift to a year-round calendar only to reverse course 180 degrees and go back to a traditional calendar?

Dr. Sharber poses the question “Should we make a decision on changed (sic) in the school district based on other district's likes or dislikes?” Well, gee, no we shouldn’t make decisions based on others’ “likes or dislikes.” But, we ought to have enough simple common sense to learn from other people’s actual experiences.

We are talking about real schools, that adopted real year-round/balanced calendars, and experienced real problems. These are just “likes or dislikes,” they’re factual experiences. They are facts we ought to know.

Other parents have offered their input about why they think that they proposed calendar would be beneficial. The following are those responses:

• Some students report being "bored" by the end of July during the summer break.

• There is a decreased attendance at the parks and pools by the end of July due to the heat.

Let’s see if we can get our arms around this one. By the end of July it is too hot to go swimming, but not too hot to spend considerable time on un-air conditioned busses, or spending hours in a shade-free field for marching band practice, or spending hours in pads for football practice?

• Longer breaks during the school year would offer some parents an opportunity to take more time for vacations with their children.

• The breaks during the school year would provide much needed rest for students.

• The breaks during the school year would provide rest from the oversight of school schedules and homework.

Except for those with assigned readings, homework, and projects (addressed above). Except for those with band practice. Except for those needing remediation. Except for those with sports practice. And, so on.

• The breaks in the proposed calendar appear to correspond better with breaks that businesses can take.

WCS already provides a full week Spring Break; with the two weekends at either end, this is 9 full days off. By converting just three of ten administrative/focus days and adding them to the existing two-day Fall Break, this could be converted to a full week (9 full days) as well. Thus, every nine weeks students would have at least nine days off, and this can be done without moving the school start date at all.

How many families can or could afford more than a week vacation in the Fall or Spring? Moving three days would accommodate the breaks that businesses can take.

• The intermittent breaks would provide an opportunity to visit distant relatives at times other than summer and winter.

Again: WCS already provides a full week Spring Break; with the two weekends at either end, this is 9 full days off. By converting just three of ten administrative/focus days and adding them to the existing two day Fall Break, this could be converted to a full week (9 full days) as well. Thus, every nine weeks students would have at least nine days off, and this can be done without moving the school start date at all.

Moving three days would accommodate visits to distant relatives at times other than Summer and Winter.

• The intermittent breaks could help the school system address the needs of students who are falling behind in their work before they "get left behind".

“Could help” is a good qualifier, but what does the research say on the typical effectiveness of one week of remediation in the Fall and one week of remediation in the spring? The answer: that it rarely leads to any improvement.

The North Carolina Department of Education completed the largest ever study comparing performance in traditional and year-round calendar schools. Importantly, most of the year-round calendar schools in the study had mandatory remediation during the intersessions for kids falling behind. Did they find that these at-risk kids had better outcomes, better performance, than comparable at-risk kids in traditional calendar schools? No.

Effective things can and ought to be done for at-risk kids. But, five half-days of remediation in October and five half-days of remediation in March is too little, too late.

• The shorter summer may allow for great retention and less review at the beginning of the school year.

People do say it, but the research doesn’t support it (this was addressed above).

We believe this will provide you the information you requested. Much of the research about the balanced calendar is over ten years old. The newer research is leaning toward demonstrating that a balanced calendar improves teacher and students attendance, increases graduation rates, decreases discipline referrals and increases time for teacher planning and reflection. There is a recent article concerning the University School at East Tennessee State University that indicates there may be some academic gain in their balanced school calendar. Hawaii, which has a state-run school system, has recently adopted a 1, 2, 3 calendar which gives a 1 week break in the fall, a 2 week break in the winter, and a 3 week break in the spring. The calendar a district adopts does not seem to make or break the academic achievement of the students, but modifying the school calendar does seem to hold a great deal of interest in the minds of our community and in the minds of many community members across our nation.

In this paragraph, the effort is to try to imply there is an academic benefit when there isn’t any.

<>The retention, graduation rate, and discipline referrals line of argument, as I wrote the Board several days ago, comes almost entirely from the Tennessee Comptroller's 2003 report "School Calendar Choices in Tennessee: a look at year-round and non-traditional calendars." As I noted then, the Comptroller’s “evidence” is based almost exclusively on one or two year’s data from two school districts. Larger and more systematic research studies have not found these differences between the calendars. In addition, WCS has already achieved extraordinarily high attendance, graduation rates, and so on with its traditional calendar. <> 

Hawaii
is mentioned, which has in fact adopted the 1,2,3 calendar. But, nothing is said about it—that it works or doesn’t work, that it’s effective or not effective—so it’s not clear why it’s mentioned.

Finally, what can one say about the ETSU university school? It is one university run experimental school where “there may be some academic gain” with a balanced calendar, versus scores and scores of serious educational research studies that have found no academic benefit with either calendar. Where should we put our trust?