A parent sent me a note about the frequent breaks in the school calendar.
His questions on whether frequent breaks stymie learning intrigued me as I am in a system — Decatur — that resumes classes Tuesday and has week-long breaks in September, November (Thanksgiving week), February and April, in addition to the standard holiday break in December.
(As a New Jersey native, I still can’t get used to returning to school at the beginning of August, but Decatur is one of several districts opening next week. And the temperature is supposed to be 99 degrees, which will make for a long mile-plus walk home for my twins. )
As I have said many times, our “balanced” calendar, which made its debut last year, does not work well for me, but I am resigned to it since the system believes it is more appealing to teachers.
I chatted with a teacher today who told she hates the calendar as a parent and as an educator because she has to re-establish routines in her classroom after every break. As a parent herself, she spends more money on travel vacations since there aren’t any good camp options during the September and February breaks.
However, another teacher told me that he loves the frequent breaks because they keep him sane and rested.
But do they hurt learning?
Here is the note from the APS parent about the calendar:
Why don’t you take a close look at the APS school calendar? It isn’t organized to enhance learning. The longest time the kids are in school is a six- week stint after spring break. I’m just a parent, but it seems to me that if you want to improve test scores and learning, you do so through routine.
The calendar as it currently exists does anything but establish a routine for learning. The average length of time without interruption is three weeks. It seems to me that if you want to improve test scores, then the best way to do it is to have more solid school time before testing, not after.
UPDATE: Another parent sent me this note this morning, which I wanted to add as I think it gives a broader perspective to this discussion:
Your articles are usually insightful and thought provoking but this one is not true. I’m sorry but the facts aren’t researched. Research the facts on this one. My children attend school in Rockdale county and they have a balanced calendar where they are out every six weeks or roughly thereabout. We love the calendar. It keep the kids fresh along with the teachers. We are able to schedule family vacations spring break, a week in the summer, and usually one the first week of October during fall break (when lines are shorter at Disney )
But APS has the same calendar about 90 percent of the schools in Georgia have. School starts Aug 8th, and the first day off is October 10th and 11th, whereas in Rockdale they have a week off in October after starting August 1st. This doesn’t seem to hurt their test scores. That idea and thought is simply off base, and just a shot at APS. Are you honestly saying the two days off in October (10th and 11th), and two days off in February (17th and 20th) affect test scores. Really? The schools systems such as Rockdale who made AYP every year until this year (and still may make it after re-test have been calculated) have been on real balanced calendars for a while and they don’t affect test scores.
Our kids have a week off the same time as APS and other school systems give their kids two days off. You’ve got be kidding that any parent w/any gripe whether is based in facts or not can just get you to publish that.
In response, I shared the original parent note because I thought the overarching question of time off is worth discussing. I had no intention of taking a shot at APS as I saw the question raised as a universal one relevant to all schools.
I went to a bare-bones Catholic schools where we had no breaks — whether a week or two days — beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas. No spring break. No fall break. No teacher workdays. Any my niece and nephews in private schools up north also have fewer breaks than we do, although they have one Friday off each semester when teachers meet with parents.
I also wonder about the impact of partial weeks. Teacher friends tell me that partial weeks — where the kids have off two days — lead to lost learning time as less gets done in those remaining three days. Not sure why kids are more distracted and why time is lost, but I have heard that complaint.
–From Maureen Downey, for the Get Schooled blog