Sooner or later, school calendar must expand

Published 9:10 am Friday, March 15, 2013

Rochester public school officials are going to begin exploring the possibility of implementing a 45-15 schedule in more schools, expanding upon the experiment begun in 1995 at Longfellow Elementary, a choice school in southeast Rochester.

What, exactly, are the benefits of such a change?

Before answering that question, we should point out that a 45-15 schedule isn’t the same as so-called “year-round” schooling. Students in a 45-15 program spend no more time in the classroom than their peers in schools with traditional calendars.

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But the calendar does offer several academic advantages, with the most obvious being a summer break that is six or seven weeks, rather than the usual 13. Multiple studies have found this to be advantageous, causing less “summer slide” — which means a 45-15 calendar requires less review of old material every fall.

The other significant benefit of 45-15 is the logical placement of breaks within the calendar. Students at Longfellow start school in late July, complete the nine-week first quarter, then take a three-week break. They return for another nine weeks, which completes their first semester, and then they have an extended winter break over the holiday season.

The traditional calendar, on the other hand, sends kids home before Christmas and brings them back after New Year’s Day — and one or two weeks later, the first semester ends. That isn’t a problem for elementary schoolers, but if you’re a high school student facing semester exams, that calendar is less than ideal.

What are the downsides of 45-15?

Logistically, it poses challenges for families who don’t have a stay-at-home parent. Instead of having to find child care for June, July and August, they have three additional three-week holidays to cover.

If this calendar were applied to Rochester’s high schools, students’ summer employment opportunities would be greatly curtailed.

That’s why we’d be reluctant to see a districtwide expansion of 40-15, at least for now. Instead, the next logical step would be to add another 45-15 elementary choice school (if there is demand for it) and/or to create a 45-15middle-school choice program, so families whose children attend Longfellow at least have the option of continuing with the system that’s familiar to them.

But in the long term, we hope the district — and the entire state — will look at a much more significant calendar change that actually adds days to the school calendar, rather than just redistributing them.

Next year, 20,000 students in 40 schools in Massachusetts, New York, Connecticut, Colorado and Tennessee will spend a lot more time in school. Three hundred additional hours to be exact — which, if they were divided up into today’s average school day of roughly seven hours, would equate to eight additional weeks of learning.

It’s a three-year pilot program, funded (yes, the teachers are paid for their extra time) through a mix of federal, state and local sources. The goal is to boost achievement and provide an education that is globally competitive with what students receive in India, China, Finland and Japan.

Such a change in Rochester and Minnesota is probably a long way off, but we’re convinced it must and will happen. Expanding the use of the 45-15 calendar would be at least a small step in that direction.

— Rochester Post-Bulletin, March 12

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