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No 'silver bullet' fired from calendar switch: Prof

There are many arguments, positive and negative, surrounding whether school districts should take the plunge into the choppy educational waters of a balanced "yearround" calendar.

There are many arguments, positive and negative, surrounding whether school districts should take the plunge into the choppy educational waters of a balanced "yearround" calendar.

One of the strongest claims being made for making the change is the "loss of learning" theory.

It's an assertion, backed up by a degree of research, that students lose - over the extended two-month summer vacation - a lot of what they learned in the weeks and months leading up to the big break.

The theory is that, shorter one-month vacations such as the Spul'u'kwuks elementary model in Richmond, mitigate that "loss."

However, Dan Laitsch, associate professor at SFU's Faculty of Education and director at the university's Centre for the Study of Educational Leadership and Policy, cautioned school districts against basing their decisions to switch calendars on the "loss of learning" research.

"There are some studies that claim slightly higher achievement for students enrolled in the year-round model," said Laitsch. "But there are also many studies that show no difference at all. It does seem to be fairly inconclusive.

"And there is the theory that more frequent breaks allows students to decompress more often and come back to school more refreshed. But I'm not sure the research backs this claim up."

Kids going off into summer camps during the longer, traditional summer vacation may also be stimulated in ways other than academia, Laitsch suggested.

"In the summer their learning does continue and there are many opportunities for enrichment," he said.

"There is research that shows, for kids who get this enrichment, there is more information retention than those who do not throughout the summer."

Laitsch said he is aware that the longer break does cause more problems regarding behavioral.

"(A shorter break) does appear to help with behaviour," he said. "Students can be more 'on task' when they return after a shorter break in a year-round school. There can be less referrals to the principal's office, for example, and less disciplinary actions."

As well as the concept of the "year-round" balanced calendar, such as at Spul'u'kwuks, a number of schools in the U.S. work on a "multi-track" schedule.

It's not clear whether this avenue would be explored by schools in B.C., but in a multi-track school, you might have four or five different tracks or schedules, each track taking vacation breaks at different times. This means there are always students at the school.

The 180 days of schooling are still there; they're just arranged in a different way.

"If one of the tracks is on vacation, this will allow schools to add more students," Laitsch said of the multi-track benefits. "But there are a number of challenges. If you're a parent who has children in different tracks and even in different schools, then they will be off at different times.

"And if there are students at the school all year round, when will maintenance of a roof, for example, be done?"

No matter which way school districts lean, Laitsch acknowledges big decisions await all concerned.

"It will not be easy and engaging all members of the community should be done to make sure the change is something they all want," he added.

"(The districts) should be clear about why they're making the change."

If it's about increasing enrollment, that should be stated and should be transparent, advised Laitsch.

"But I don't think it should be seen as a silver bullet for increasing academic achievement.

"For the last 150 years, society has adapted itself around the traditional school calendar.

"It's not just the schools, students and parents that would have to change; everyone would have to change."

acampbell@richmond-news.com

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