The new year brought together a committee of parents, teachers, students, administrators and community members to brainstorm a different school-year concept, a balanced calendar. The goal of a balanced calendar is to improve student achievement. A balanced calendar would be a change from what has been the “norm” for more than a century, but in our quest to provide the best possible education and give our students what they need to succeed, this is a concept worth exploring – your child’s education is too important.
This type of calendar shortens the long, 12-week summer break and spreads it over the course of the school year. This reduces the amount of material students forget over the summer (known as the summer slide) and increases opportunities for remediation to keep students caught up throughout the year.
Why explore a Balanced Calendar?
Otsego Public Schools is committed to each student’s academic success. One obstacle teachers must overcome in the fall is combating the summer slide. Summer slide is the term given for the learning loss students endure over the long summer break. The longer the summer, the more material they forget, thus the longer it can take for teachers to bring students back to the level at which they were at the end of the previous year. The amount of “catch-up” time depends on the student and the subject, but teachers say it can be 2-9 weeks. Research shows that lower socio-economic status (SES) students have a greater loss which is cumulative over each summer. They do not have as many opportunities such as camps, activities or family trips, to practice reading or math skills in those months. At recent community forums, we shared a table prepared by Time Magazine in an August 2010 article that looked at the summer slide. (Click here for that table.) While this is a glimpse of what happens at the elementary level, only the graph stops at 5th grade - summer slide affects middle and high school students as well.
What does a balanced calendar look like?
A balanced calendar comes in many forms, but it is not year-round school as it is often mistaken. The number of instructional days in the classroom remains the same (currently 176.) The summer break in a balanced calendar remains the longest break of the year, but could be anywhere from 6-9 weeks instead of the current 11or 12 weeks. The time reduced in the summer is then spread out during the school year to allow the district to add in more remedial instruction time; it also gives students and teachers time to de-stress, re-energize and simply take a break. We have attached a sample calendar to give you an idea of what one might look like (this is only an example.) Click here.
Changing the calendar:
Making changes to the school year calendar is not a decision that can come quickly or be made by a small number of people. Consideration of calendar changes is dependent on several groups and constraints.
Currently, the State of Michigan does not allow any public school district to start classes until after Labor Day. Any variation from this requires a waiver from the Michigan Department of Education. Many balanced calendar examples have school beginning in mid-to-late August. This would require a waiver from the MDE. At this time, it is unknown if such a waiver would be granted.
- Another state requirement calls for our Christmas and Spring breaks to be coordinated with the other county schools on a 5-year plan. We want to continue to be a good partner with the county and continue this cooperation; it impacts so many of our kids. In addition, we have approximately 100 high school students who utilize the Allegan County Tech Center. It would be difficult to accomplish this calendar change without other schools doing the same.
- Each year’s calendar is negotiated between the Otsego Education Association (teacher’s union) and the Board of Education (school calendars remain a contracted subject in the state of Michigan.)
The committee looked at several potential conflicts in moving to a new schedule such as the Tech Center schedule, Athletics and Fine Arts events/seasons, Childcare, summer jobs and Utility Costs. While every family is faced with different circumstances, we did not find great obstacles with any of those except for those who attend the Tech Center. There are currently two to three other county schools exploring a balanced calendar; depending on the outcomes of their exploration, alternate plans could be a possibility.
Balanced Calendar across the country:
This is not an entirely new concept, a number of states have schools which operate on a balanced calendar. Several in Indiana, Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina as well as a few in Michigan came to our attention. Horizon Elementary School in Holt, MI has been on a balanced calendar with a 6-week summer for 17 years now; Emmons Lake Elementary School in Caledonia also operates on a balanced calendar with a 7-week summer. In each of those cases, parents choose that calendar.
In the middle of April, OPS held three community forums to share our research and information on a balanced calendar to gather input and answer questions; we wanted to gauge the community response on such a concept. About 150 people attended those meetings and we thank you for the input. There was a strong sense of support that Otsego continue to explore this concept. It is important to note that no major changes to our school year calendar will be happening in the short term; but, we do want to proceed in gathering more input and feedback. This information could assist us in any future steps in lobbying the state, hopefully with other county schools, to obtain a waiver.
Below are answers to several common questions that came up in our community forums and calendar discussions. We encourage your continued input; you may leave comments in the comment section below or email our Communications Director, Holly McCaw, at email@example.com.
Why haven’t more schools in Michigan done this?
Constraints in the state mandate of starting after Labor Day may be a primary factor; schools must get a waiver from the state to start school before Labor Day and there are set guidelines for achieving that waiver. Cost may be another factor. In the districts which have a balanced calendar, it is run from just one elementary building and is an option for parents. That increases costs for transportation, food service, staff, etc. since one school would be running when others are not. The lack of air conditioning is a concern for many Michigan districts.
Are all classrooms air-conditioned?
While this may be a constraint for some districts, all of Otsego’s classrooms are air-conditioned thanks to renovation dollars from the 2004 bond request.
Is there an academic achievement goal of the district?
There is no magic number and few statistics to equally compare, however, we feel that 12 weeks off in the summer is simply too long and shortening the time in which students are away from the classroom can only be a positive for all students. Research shows the longer students are off, the more they forget. Shortening their break would help to bring all students to grade level sooner, and entire classes could hopefully move forward at a faster pace, as well.
Why is the 6-week summer option off the table for now?
This is simply a long-range target due to the main constraints of county programs (like the Vo-Tech), the OEA negotiations and the cultural norm of the past century.
If a 9-week summer calendar was implemented, how would that impact students who attend the Tech Center?
Most likely, this would have a minimal effect on our students. If the county goes together on this, the Tech Center would also make the change to fulfill its student population.
Are you considering doing this for just one building?
No. This would be a move that would be district-wide. Providing a separate calendar for just one building would increase costs to the district by adding transportation, food service and staff for the different times students would be in the classroom.
What do teachers think of this?
This calendar committee was formed at the teacher’s request during negotiations in 2011. Our teachers are at the front lines of getting students back up to speed at the beginning of the year and are supportive of trying different programs that help in student learning and achievement.
Where would additional breaks be placed in the school year?
There are several different scenarios of how a balanced calendar could look, but we see advantages in having breaks right before the end of a trimester or in the middle of a trimester. This allows us to add in some remediation time to assist students in either getting caught up or to obtain some study help before finals. Also, it gives students a little break during hard-working times of the year.
How would teachers get paid with added remediation during the school year?
Teacher pay would continue to be funded as it is currently. We have state funds that provide compensation for teachers for summer school and that is the money that would be used for additional help during the year. It would not be an extra strain on the teachers as they apply for these positions. With a balanced calendar, summer school sessions might run shorter, as additional days are added during the year.
If this is such a positive, why aren’t more schools going with this approach?
We would point back to the list of constraints each district has in changing the calendar; common county calendar and partnering programs and mandates from the state. Air-conditioning is also a major concern for most Michigan districts. Looking at a district-wide change, as well, we need to take a closer look at athletics, fine arts and the tech center to see how those programs would be impacted. In addition, changing the current calendar would be a major change in mindset; our current calendar has been in place for more than a century.