Positive School Ideas in the Utah Legislature

It is refreshing (and frankly pleasantly surprising) to see that the Utah legislative leaders have (seemingly) finally given up on their school voucher fetish and begun to look at more productive and sensible methods of improving our school system. I’m particularly pleased to see year-round school being proposed, both by Senator Howard Stephenson in SB-41 and by Governor Romney Huntsman (guess the presidential coverage is getting to me…) in his 2008 State of the State address.

I’ve long been a fan of year-round school. The traditional school schedule was fashioned to meet the needs of rural/agrarian communities and family farms—a community type and lifestyle which describes a smaller minority of Utahns each year. This antiquated system provides no real benefits to our students. The smaller breaks would aid retention and make smoother the transition between grade levels. With significant breaks every couple months, students would experience less scholastic burnout. On the other hand, the lack of any one monolithic break would reduce the summer doldrums, that time a few weeks into summer vacation when mothers start to hear that dreaded “I’m bored.” From a financial perspective, year-round school system would enable more efficient use of our school facilities and alleviate some of the problems with overcrowding—which, in a state challenged to educate an enormous student population in as cost-effective a manner as possible, should be a paramount consideration.

No system is perfect, and year-round school does have its disadvantages. Accommodating a family’s need to keep all their children on the same track can be tricky. Traditionally summer events (summer jobs, family vacations) are compromised. Various extra-curricular programs would experience challenges. But I believe that the drawbacks pale in comparison to the educational benefits. Year-round school is not the only nor final answer to the dilemma in education (increasing funding is still crucial). But it can and should play a key role in improving the quality of education in Utah.

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17 Responses to “Positive School Ideas in the Utah Legislature”

  1. WP Says:

    Don’t you think it (vouchers) will come back again? Maybe in a year or two. I think their mentality and work ethic is much like Wal Mart, they just don’t give up. They have Wa Mart money behind them.

    Year round makes sense to me but many schools lack AC and they get pretty uncomfortable. Maybe newer schools in nicer neighborhoods have AC.

  2. Derek Staffanson Says:

    I’m trying to give the benefit of the doubt to the Republicans, but yes, I’m skeptical about their willingness to surrender on vouchers (thus the insertion of the word “seemingly”).

    No doubt, there would need to be some building renovations and improvements to make year-round work. I think the long term savings from more intensive use–not to mention the improvement in education quality–would make up for the cost.

  3. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I think your ideas have some real merit. My cousins in Cache Valley were on a year-round track, and I was actually jealous of them. Having one three-month clump of vacation is way too much for any kid of a certain age. You get bored, and your mind is bound to atrophy a little even if you are a reader, like I was from the age of four. The only question is that of practicality. I think by keeping each district on the same schedule you avoid the problem of having children on different tracks, but still get most of the benefit. I think that was the case with my cousins who went to different schools. People are used to the way things are and will probably fight out of reflex, but there would be some real benefit to changing things up. It couldn’t hurt to shake things up in our public schools.

  4. Cindy Says:

    I usually agree with most of what you have to say, and find your views refreshing as I too consider myself a liberal Mormon. Do you have kids in school yet? One reason I’m happy to keep living in Tooele county is because they don’t have year round school like some Salt Lake County school districts. I love summer vacation. As a stay at home mom it’s a time to reconnect with my kids, try new things and teach them on my own terms. By the end of the school year I’m burned out on all the requirements and homework and want to be in charge. It’s nice to feel like the school isn’t dictating to me how to run my life for a while. My oldest is in 4th grade now so in a few more years (which go by very quickly), I would be dealing with two different school schedules. Not my idea of fun or organization. I’m not wanting to home school my kids (don’t have it in me to do that and there is a lot of good in public education), so that isn’t a possibility. I’ll adjust if year round does come to where I live. Reluctantly, however.

  5. Jesse Harris Says:

    I’ve heard rumblings that a lot of our increased education costs over the last several decades are from construction and other capital improvements. It seems to make sense to try and staunch the flow of dollars for buildings and land by making more effective use of the facilities. I’d personally be in favor of offering both morning and afternoon tracks with the option for over-achievers to double enroll and be out of the system quicker.

  6. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Cindy, I respect your desire bond and be involved with your kids. I would suggest that parents might find it easier to bond with their kids, because instead of one whopping big break followed by nine months of school, you would have several mid-sized breaks in which to more frequently have some intensive family time. And because the school year is broken up more, there might be less chance of you experiencing that burnout. I don’t doubt that there would be some tradeoffs, but overall you might not find it as bad as you think.

    No, I do not have children yet myself. I do have some experience with a year-round school system, however. While I was in high school, the elementary school in which my younger sisters were enrolled went year-round. My parents and sisters found the system to be overwhelmingly positive.

    While I think there is a lot of details to be worked out, Jesse, I agree with the general idea. The thought that we are straining to find classrooms for our children, while our schools lie almost entirely empty for three months of the year is absurd.

  7. Doug Says:

    Governor Romney?

  8. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Good catch, Doug. Thanks.

  9. Jennifer Says:

    I do have kids, who have been in public school year -round for several years. We love it! My reasons:
    1- time off during other seasons than summer (cheaper vacations)We’ve done some great short vacations in spring and fall and have fewer crowds and less expense…
    2 – break from homework/bedtimes during winter or fall or spring (we LOVE having the whole month of Dec. off since it’s such a busy time anyway)
    3- no chance for “burnout” either for parents, kids or teachers (most of my kids’ teachers love the schedules too)
    4- even with 2 kids in el. and 2 kids in secondary, the change is nice to have only a couple of kids home at a time. More 1-1 time or special time for their interests
    5- more academic retention year to year
    6 – 3 weeks off is enough for a break but not to be bored and obnoxious!

    I don’t think people have figured out a good way to have middle school and high school year round, with the different subjects and sports, and extracurr. stuff. But I would support it if there were some good logistics.

    As for the AC question – I think that installing AC is cheaper than building new schools or remodeling. Money well-spent IMO. I was hesitant at first about year round school, but we REALLY like it – kind of a win-win deal.

  10. Jennifer Says:

    Should explain that by “academic retention” I mean that the kids retain more between grades and have less “reviewing” when school starts again.

  11. Heather Says:

    I was a teacher for a few years and worked in both a traditional and a year round school. Yes, there are many benefits and drawbacks as mentioned already to year round school. One drawback from a completely different perspective is teacher salaries. Many teachers feel the economic pressure to get a job during the summer months to help balance out the low wages of teaching. Year round school will make that option incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to seek other employment. I hate to use this as a reason to oppose year round school (it feels selfish when up against the student benefits of year round school) but we need to increase teacher salaries if we don’t want to continue losing qualified teachers.

  12. Jennifer Says:

    Good point Heather – It would be difficult to find other income for sporadic weeks off & on all year. Pay increases would help – esp. when teachers spend part of the “off track” time to set up for the next session.

  13. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Heather, there is no doubt that teachers should be better compensated. That is an issue which should not be ignored regardless of the calendar on which they work. Perhaps districts could make an effort to provide more opportunities for them to work during their off-track times (administrative opportunities, extra classes, whatever). Or perhaps our government could simply provide a better salary. The theoretically reduced construction costs could go to the teachers.

  14. marshall Says:

    That is the best reason I have ever seen for year around school is to make better use of the school infrastructure.

  15. greg Says:

    You know I am getting very tired of the school teachers getting everything they want, yes there are some very good teachere but most of them couldn’t get a job anywhere else so they became teachers. I am sick and tired of my taxes going out of site and for what put a head tax on the people who use the facilities, not people who have no children left in school or the renters who have the landlords pay for their children go to school. It would be nice getting $2500-3500 a year bonuses and pay raises to boot when the rest of Utah suffers. Time to wake up and get real.

  16. Heather Says:

    I’m not sure exactly what Greg is referring to when he mentions “teachers getting everything they want”. Some of the reasons I left teaching – low pay, spending hundreds of dollars a year to purchase things the school/district wouldn’t, no support from parents, working until 8-9 in the evening so I can try to not work on the weekends, constantly having to ask for ANYTHING to help me in teaching. It took me almost a full school year to get one drawer in my classroom that locked. It took a police report from student theft to make it happen. One year we were told in late-March that our supplies budget had been spent so go easy on the supplies because once they are gone, they are gone. Try teaching when you can’t make copies, don’t have pens, pencils, markers for the dry erase board, etc.

    About not getting a job elsewhere… I just started my 2nd job since leaving teaching – both considered career advancements. Both companies pointed to my experience as a teacher as a major factor in their decision to hire. Both were 40 hours only a week and more than double the salary I earned while teaching.

    Yes, I miss working with the kids. I miss the impact I had on society. I was told by many students, parents, and other teachers that I was an excellent teacher. I felt bad when I made the choice to leave. Yes, there are less than stellar teachers in the profession – but that statement holds true no matter the profession one looks at.

    Part of that is due to the system, but there are many other factors that play role. Complaining about teachers doesn’t help solve the larger problems. I do not miss the lack of respect from the community and from the legislatures towards teachers. I do not miss the complaints for ignorant people who think teachers have the perfect life. Those misconceptions do not help attract and retain the quality teachers we need.

    Greg, I suggest you substitute teach for a couple days, or volunteer in a classroom for a week and then come back and tell me your take of the life in a Utah classroom. I am willing to bet the more time you spend in your local school, the more you will realize how inaccurate your perceptions of teachers are.

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