Year-round schooling may end in Atlanta area

At Boyd Elementary, where students prosper academically under the school’s year-round calendar, Principal Keisha Gibbons doubts the schedule has much to do with achievement.

“I don’t really think it’s the calendar that makes the difference,” Gibbons said, while noting her students benefit from being able to get instructional help during breaks.

The promise of a year-round school year with a shortened summer was that it would help students learn better, but mounting evidence indicates that the calendar doesn’t improve student performance.

At Boyd and elsewhere in the Atlanta school system, academic progress at year-round schools ranges from awful to outstanding, leading education leaders to conclude that the calendar has little to do with classroom accomplishment.

Atlanta’s school board is considering whether to abandon the year-round class calendar at the last three public elementary schools in the metro area still using it — Boyd, Centennial Place and Hutchinson. School officials say the extended schedule has failed to show results after experimenting with it for more than a decade.

“The reality is that there simply isn’t any substantial research that says if you take the same number of days and permute them over different calendars, that the learning outcomes are appreciably different,” Superintendent Erroll Davis said during a recent board work session. “There are more important factors than the calendar. And that is the quality of the principal and the quality of the teachers.”

The Atlanta Board of Education decided Monday to continue the year-round calendar for another school year, but the board will evaluate over the next few months whether to switch to a more traditional calendar in the 2014-2015 school year.

Other school districts in Georgia have already moved away from the year-round calendar. Fulton County ended it at two schools in 2007 and Muscogee County nixed the calendar for the coming school year at two of its schools. Besides Atlanta and Muscogee County, only four other districts in the state — Clayton, Dooley, Seminole and Taliaferro counties — had schools with start dates before July 30 this school year, according to a Georgia Department of Education.

“Students in year-round schools do no better or no worse than the students who attend traditional calendar schools,” said Valerie Fuller, spokeswoman for the Muscogee County School District, which includes the city of Columbus.

Among Atlanta elementary schools, Boyd’s students pursue 12.8 months worth of knowledge compared to what an average student would take in over a typical nine-month school year, according to Atlanta Public Schools’ value-added scores. Students at Centennial are close to average, at 9.7 months worth of education. Hutchinson was near the bottom at 6.2 months.

One downfall of the year-round calendar is that many students skip the first month of school each year and don’t enroll until August, when most schools start. At Hutchinson, 25 percent of the student population enrolled after Aug. 6 this school year, according to the school district. At Centennial and Boyd, the numbers of students starting late were 11 percent and 14 percent, respectively.

Those students’ tardiness lost them 18 days of class time out of 180 annual instructional days.

Parents of children at Boyd Elementary said they’ve grown used to the year-round calendar, which has been in place since 1999.

“I like it because they get more school during the summer,” said Ciara Johnson, whose son is in fifth grade. “If you let them out too much in the summer time, they lose too much.”

Last summer’s five-week break was long enough, parents said. Students on a traditional calendar had more than 10 weeks off for summer.

“They’re out of school for a shorter period of time, so they don’t have time to forget,” said Romunda Jeffries, who has sons in first and fourth grades.

A 2007 study by sociologist Paul von Hippel, a professor at the University of Texas, found that the amount students learn over a year-round calendar isn’t significantly different from students on a traditional August-to-May calendar.

“Year-round students are less prone to forget or stall during the summer, but they’re more prone to forget or stall during breaks in the rest of the year,” he said.

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