School leaders in Memphis are seriously considering a year-round calendar as a way to prevent “summer slump” and boost test scores.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said his new summer learning academy — which this year will teach 8,000 students at 22 schools — will serve as a testing ground to track participants’ progress next school year.
“Clearly there’s a huge need here. The research shows the summer learning loss is real,” Hopson said during a radio broadcast last week on the district’s station at 88.5FM. “I personally think it’s a great idea and I think our board is supportive of it. We just need to figure out a way to operationalize it.”
School board members appear to be open to the idea, too.
“Wouldn’t it be great to be in an environment where there’s not any sort of (summer) slide?” asked Miska Clay Bibbs, adding that a change hinges on academic results and cost.
Shelby County Schools is far from making such a change, but Hopson said his finance team is looking at the cost. The district plans to seek feedback from Memphians about a possible year-round calendar, which includes the same number of school days as a traditional calendar but adds periodic breaks that lead to a shorter summer break.
While traditional 10-month calendars are still the most popular in America, year-round calendars have gained support, especially in districts that serve low-income students. According to the National Summer Learning Association, students living in poverty are more likely than their more affluent peers to fall behind academically during long summer breaks. And since about 60 percent of students in Shelby County Schools come from impoverished households, district leaders are looking for ways to close the achievement gap.
Research spanning decades shows that year-round students perform as well or better than students on a traditional calendar, particularly in reading. A 2009 study by East Tennessee State University added that teachers and parents in year-round districts in Blount and Sevier counties reported “more favorable opinions about their school setting as opposed to teachers and parents of students who attend traditional calendar schools.” And a 2003 state comptroller’s report said “other factors related to academic performance, such as attendance and discipline referrals, show significant improvement in some Tennessee schools.”
Critics charge that building costs can be burdensome as schools are open on more hot summer days. A shortened summer also gives educators fewer opportunities to further their own education. Meanwhile, extracurricular programs like band and sports may encounter scheduling problems under a revised calendar.
Across Tennessee, eight districts have schools on a year-round calendar. In Memphis, two elementary schools — Caldwell and Rozelle — adopted the model some 20 years ago but later abandoned it.
The United Education Association of Shelby County doesn’t have a stance on year-round schools, but the teachers union is collecting feedback through an online survey, according to President Tikeila Rucker.