Why year-round school may be the answer

For many ASU students — those who are not taking summer classes — it has already begun. And although we’re all eager to leave the stress, work, and grades of last semester behind, this may not be what’s best for us.

Yes, our worst nightmares have come true: There is lower retention loss for students in year-round programs than those in the traditional system.

The battle against college was fought for eight grueling months, but much of that well-earned knowledge may be lost over the protracted summer break, the supposed “reward” for working so ardently.

 

 

But what use is that reward, if nothing is learned, nothing gained from the past year? Why do we still use the first quarter of schooling primarily for review?

It is because the system we use is fundamentally flawed. The traditional schooling system is a binge-and-purge setup, where arduous paper-writing labor is juxtaposed with full months of complete lethargy. There is no middle ground. There are only the extremes of work and relaxation, of being burnt out or burning up in the summer sun.

Even though the summer break didn’t evolve from an agrarian impulse as many people suggest, its archaic nature is still harmful to students. Nobody uses Gutenberg’s original printing press or Freud’s psychoanalysis anymore; our revision of these inventions has given us better products and theories. The next natural transition for our education system to take is toward a year-round approach.

From a student’s perspective, there are obvious pros and cons (all relating to summer break, of course) to the year-round system, and the jury is still out on the benefits of year-round schooling vis-à-vis the traditional system.

But here’s what we do know: Most of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities such as summer camps, internships or summer classes. It’s also been shown that obesity and poor health go on the rise when a blockbuster-sized summer vacation rolls around.

Do these dark harbingers of break mean you should sign up for summer classes right away? Not exactly. It turns out that all students experience some learning loss over the summer when they don’t engage in “educational activities” like reading.

In other words, even the students with small breaks will lose a lot of information if they fail to exercise their mind. This whole debate is less about school and more about mental discipline, as illustrated by students who read over summer and improved their reading skills, as opposed to keeping them stagnant or even losing some proficiency.

Clearly, the polarity of the traditional system is its major flaw. If you want the 2013-14 school year to have mattered, then exercise a little discretion this summer and keep an active mind. Take a break from taking a break by doing some research, reading a book, or writing a story. Maybe you’ll be surprised by how much there is to do over break this time around.

 

Reach the columnist at hfinzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @DOCTOR_SWAGVAGO

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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