This spring, the last day of school in Clark County Schools is now scheduled to be May 26 (snow make-up days could extend it until the 31st). Schools will begin again on August 1, which is a week earlier than it started this year. There will still be 180 school days all together, but they will be arranged differently. Fall, winter and spring breaks will all be two weeks long – that means an additional week in the fall and spring, but during that second, “intersession” week, many students will be engaged in catching up in academic subjects or engaging in extra-curricular activities.
According to The Courier-Journal, Superintendent Andrew Melin believes that the new schedule will help student achievement and improve attendance.
Let’s look quickly at both these claims, because both these factors are important for special-needs students. It’s well established that students forget concepts over long summer vacations, especially in arithmetic, because kids don’t tend to practice mathematical concepts outside of class, while they often do keep reading during the summer. However, will shortening summer vacation from ten weeks to about nine really be enough to change that? Eight or nine weeks is still a good long stretch. Some schools in the US are actually adding more days to the year, resulting in a significantly shortened break in the summer, and these schools would argue that this is productive because students’ skills and study habits have much less time to erode. Special needs students, especially, benefit from consistency, routine, and practice.
As to the attendance question, it has been argued that when a holiday is in sight, when you have a date like that to look forward to, it helps us stick with what we’re doing until we can get there. When we don’t, when the next holiday seems like years away, we create our own holidays. This is especially tempting for many students in special education. In Louisville, for many years Liberty High School had a year-round nine-weeks-on-two-weeks-off schedule, and this school had wonderful results with improved attendance. Again, routine and knowing what's going to happen is very helpful.
There are many ways the school year can be structured and we have many successful examples from different countries. The one thing we can all agree on is that few kids are needed at home during the summer to raise and harvest the crops, so the historical reason for the structuring of our school year isn’t valid any more. In most families, parents’ schedules are pretty much the same throughout the year. Few are arguing that students should be in school all year around, but we do have the opportunity at this point to experiment and see what works.