Selling year-round schools


Howard County school officials kicked off their campaign for year-round schools this past weekend. A Saturday forum organized by the Board of Education was decidedly upbeat, at least from the standpoint of officials, who offered a mostly positive slant on the concept. But questions from some of the several hundred audience members indicated considerable doubt about implementing such a change in Howard.

School officials are a long way from convincing the community that this idea can fly. The dose of heavy skepticism shown toward this radical approach can only be healthy.

Not that school officials didn't try. The two keynote speakers they brought in -- Charles Ballinger, executive director of the National Association of Year-Round Education, and Dianne Locker, a specialist for year-round schooling in Orange County, Fla. -- are supporters of the concept. We have yet to hear from those on the opposing side, particularly officials from places that have tried year-round scheduling and abandoned it for traditional calendars once faced with logistical problems and vehement objections from parents.

Still, there have been converts to the idea. As school officials reported, 2,000 schools and 1.6 million students participate in year-round schools. But 81 percent of students on year-round schedules are in California, where a regressive tax rebellion among citizens has harmed more than a few of that state's institutions.

In Howard County, school officials have one major benefit they can point to in support of year-round schools: an estimated $60 million that would be saved in school construction costs. How much of that will be offset by other costs, however, remains the great unknown. Start-up costs, as well as higher salaries for teachers and the additional support staff necessary to run such a year-round system, must be part of the information school officials disseminate.

Moreover, school officials' claims that year-round schooling would improve the achievement level of students is little more than anecdotal and isn't borne out by the available data. An 1978 assessment, admittedly dated, of a California school district that had gone to year-round schools showed "no significant difference in student achievement." School officials in Howard County -- and elsewhere around the state -- need to remain even-handed as they present this concept to the public.

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