Friday, 6 July 2012

The Great Holiday Debate

July has arrived and with it holidays have begun for students, teachers and administrators. As always there is debate over whether the break is too long or not long enough. On one side are education reformers arguing for year round schooling in order to close learning gaps and maintain student achievement. On the other side parents and educators who suggest the break is needed in order to recover, re-energize and better prepare for the next school year.

In April, BC Education Minister George Abbott  proposed ammendments to the School Act that could lead to the elimination the standard September to June school calendar. “These amendments to the School Act will provide school districts with additional tools to support personalized learning,” the Education Minister said. These actions are consistent with the new BC Ed Plan that seeks to give students, families and educators more say on how, where when and what students will learn. The Plan clearly states "In many cases, the way classes and schools look might change. School calendars may change if boards of education see that as benefiting students".

Proponents of year round schooling suggest benefits include decreased costs and improved student achievement, especially for students of families that cannot avail themselves of organized summer activities. Experts cite "summer learning loss" as a major problem for North American students. Some suggest the current summer break model is inefficient with students spending their Septembers engaged in review of the previous year's learning. Other jurisdictions such as the UK, New Zealand and Australia use a year round trimester model with the same number of days in session but with shorter breaks interspersed throughout the year.

Opponents of year round schooling suggest the longer break is necessary for teachers and students to get some proper rest and recuperation time. Many teachers have traditionally used the summer break for professional development; attending courses at university to work on their masters degrees or to upgrade their qualifications.  In a research report dedicated to the subject of whether year round schooling improves student learning, the BCTF argues against altering the traditional schedule, suggesting that there is insufficient evidence to support the claims of those who support year round schooling and that where positive results have been found, the bias of the researchers or flaws in the methodology make those findings suspect.

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to year long study is tradition. Summer break has just always been the way things are done, and until there is compelling evidence that doing it differently would be better, institutional inertia is likely to continue.  If it was good enough for us, many parents believe, its good enough for our children too. Fear of change seems hardwired into the human psyche, and so long as there is insufficient evidence to show that year round is better, many will remain reluctant to change.

Regardless of whether the breaks are scattered through out the year or concentrated in one long stretch I know I always look forward to them. I'll be taking advantage of the current summer break to rest, read and recreate so postings to the blog may be fewer and further between. Here's hoping everyone else gets a break this summer too so that the fall finds us all ready to return to Education Matters.