Year-round schools could probably save money, but don't appear to be worth the trouble. There are no clear educational benefits. Before Maryland tries a year-round calendar -- as Gov. William Donald Schaefer has urged -- costs and benefits need to be weighed much more carefully.
Experts say it takes 18 months to talk through a year-round calendar with the community and develop a plan for smooth implementation. The impatient governor's desire to start an experiment before he leaves office is a recipe for failure.
The attraction of year-round schools for the governor is clear. The schedule can be arranged with rotating vacations, meaning a quarter of the students are out at any one time, each building can serve more students, and the need for building new schools is reduced. School construction is a major expense for the state government -- $80 million this year. The demand is three times that figure.
While there is money to be saved on building schools (mostly state-financed in Maryland), there are increased operating costs percent local, 40 percent state). The net result in dollars and cents is uncertain.
Year-round schools do not mean that students will spend more time in the classroom. This discussion involves rearranging schedules, with shorter and more frequent vacations, to stretch school capacity. Thus, there is no evidence of educational benefits, and substantial evidence of disruption to course schedules and other school activities.
Year-round school is an idea whose time comes again and again. Talked about, and occasionally tried, since the 19th century, "the number of year-round schools waxed and waned during the past 60 years in accordance with economic conditions and enrollment changes," according to a 1991 article in the National Association of Secondary School Principals Bulletin. It's in a waxing phase nationally, with enrollments starting to go up after the "baby bust" and with budgets tight everywhere.
It wouldn't hurt if the governor commissioned a thorough examination of year-round schools. But rushing into a year-round schedule, even on a trial basis in one county, would be a mistake. The governor and school officials might better devote their time to thinking about teaching methods, student grouping, instructional materials, educational technology and other areas more likely to result in improvements in Maryland education.