The Balanced School Calendar: How Much Did Your Kids Forget This Summer?

The first day back to school for SD46 was full of excitement, anticipation, and promise.
This time of year also seems to inevitably spark conversations about the length of summer vacations in our school system. There are a growing number of advocates for a “balanced” school year: one that minimizes the length of breaks while maintaining the number of instructional days in the school year, in an attempt to reduce the “learning loss” that seems to occur over long school breaks.

In recent times many districts have been implementing changes in school calendars, but have been doing so in an effort to save money rather than to improve academic performance. Changes from this angle generally mean having less actual days in school, while having each day a bit longer to make up the required minutes of instruction over the school year. Personally I wouldn’t want to consider going this route: it’s educationally unsound and the actual monetary savings are unclear.

If, however, there is an alternative school calendar that is educationally advantageous, and will be a direct benefit to children, than it seems irresponsible to not take a closer look at it. I’m not advocating for such a change, but I think we should consider options.

As a parent I’m not particularly concerned about the “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap”. Being aware of the necessity to continue practicing the things we learn I don’t find it that hard to continue to do some reading, writing, and arithmeticking with my kids over the summer. But as a Trustee and someone who has worked for many years with vulnerable, at-risk children, many of whom have learning disabilities and other challenges, it seems like an issue worthy of discussion.

Most would agree that the longer we go without practicing or reviewing new material, the less we will retain. It’s not clear, though, about how long is too long or what the impact of reduced gaps in the school calendar will be.

The graphics above show a simple comparison of the difference between the “Traditional” calendar and a “Balanced” model taken from the website of the National Association For Year-Round Education.

For a different (opposite) perspective on the matter see the website Summer Matters.

While the actual benefits of a balanced calendar are not crystal clear, it does seem logical that minimizing the gaps between formal learning will benefit students. And, while it would initially be a huge change for most of us, I don’t (so far) see any clear drawbacks to a more balanced school year.

But I’m happy to be enlightened! I look forward to hearing from all those involved in the public education system on this concept.



Filed under Education, Sunshine Coast Board of Education

3 responses to “The Balanced School Calendar: How Much Did Your Kids Forget This Summer?

  1. One of the analysis which is not often done is the “week before a long break” learning, which in my experience is not much. If we increase the number of long breaks kids get, will they have more unproductive days at school spent in less than useful activities?

    The second possibility is that we should examine the root reasons why students experience a learning loss during the summer. My son doesn’t, because he will be reading with us, and participating in lots of learning activities during the summer months. Maybe we need to fill the summer time with learning activities for every kid as well? 30 days is still a long time for kids with a difficult home life.

    • Jason Scott

      Thanks for the comment, David. I do think your idea of filling the summer time (and other breaks) with some learning activities is good. Ideally we should have our schools and resources open to kids and families year round–with lots of fun learning activities (less formal and more “camplike” rather than “remedial” school.)
      But, of course, someone has to pay for that. Shifting the breaks around to try to mitigate some of the learning loss would not be as great as that, but it is something that could help and would be achievable in the short term.

  2. Pingback: Education Committee meeting, September 29, 2011 | Jason Scott: confessions of a self hating politician

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