Extended School Year: Boon or Bust? Best for DC?

Ten of DC Public Schools will begin extending the school year with the 2016-17 academic year, District Mayor Muriel Bowser announced February 3. But the announcement did not address a number of key issues including cost, teacher burnout, and scheduling of renovations and repairs during shorter breaks.

Feature Report begins at 3:30
— thanks to Candi Peterson of Washington Teacher blog for staying on top of the issues behind this huge decision —

Candi Peterson’s Washington Teacher blog points out that the mayor’s announcement (see below) mentions research supporting extended school years but does not cite any.

Summer Slide, Quality of Program
Some research (see below) suggests that “summer slide” (learning loss over vacation months) is greater among the most disadvantaged students, due to differences in range of summer opportunities. And it’s clear that DCPS is trying to address this.

But Elizabeth Davis, president of Washington Teachers Union, told the Washington Post that union leaders have not seen sufficient data from city officials showing that extending the year works. Meanwhile, she says: “In the lowest-performing schools, the focus has been on tests — reading and math — not providing students a well-rounded curriculum….Simply extending the time is not the answer.” (Research summaries, below, make repeated reference to “quality” of programs, not simply extending schedule or calendar, being essential to any gains.)

Student and Teacher Burn-Out
As extended year programs become more popular, school districts are noting burnout effects, from shorter breaks, in children as well as in teachers (Prospect; Seattle).

Districts which adopt “multi-track” scheduling, in which one group of students is on break while others continue schooling, can wreck havoc on childcare and vacation planning for families.

Financial Questions

On the financial side: Hanover Research found that, in addition to higher yearly operational costs, transition costs, as a new extended-year system is implemented are big hurdles for extended-year programs. Nearby Fairfax County (VA) Public Schools, for example, experienced cost overruns in each of its first three years of extended year schooling, ranging from $438 thousand to $1.4 million. (See ESY Interim Report)

More generally, the Hanover report says:

District planning for increased operational costs is also critical. Schools that operate year-round are generally more costly, both in terms of transition costs and operational costs. Transition costs involve those associated with “administrative planning, staff development, communication, storage units, storage space, and air conditioning,” while operational costs include the expenditures resulting from “expanded office and administrative staff, increased utilities, maintenance, and transportation costs.”* Schools without long summer breaks may encounter the initial difficulty of scheduling necessary large-scale repairs or renovations.*
— Review of Extended Learning Opportunities, 2013
* see full report for citations

No contract, but work longer?

Finally, The Washington Teacher blog also points out the irony of placing new demands on DCPS teachers while they have been working without a contract since 2012.

DC Public Schools, Mayoral Announcement, and Research (not cited)

The announcement mentioned research support for the move but cited none:

Research suggests that time away from school during the summer contributes to the achievement gap School districts across the country that have extended the school year have seen significant gains among their student bodies.
— DC Mayor’s Press Release 2/3/16text here

In addition to the Hanover review quoted above, here are additional research reviews: peer-reviewed analysis of research, 1985-2009, and this shorter, 2010 review, prepared for Dade County (FL) schools.


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