JLARC Plugs Year-Round Schools… under Certain Circumstances

My first introduction to year-round school calendars was through my sister-in-law’s family in Wake County, N.C. Concluding that it made no sense to let schools sit vacant for three summer months out of the year, school officials in the fast-growing county outside Raleigh eked out extra capacity by dividing the long summer break into shorter “intersessions” and rotating students through the year at different intervals. Based upon my casual conversations with her, my sister-in-law seemed perfectly happy with the arrangement. I always wondered why Virginia didn’t try something similar — especially in counties that couldn’t build schools fast enough to keep up with population growth.

It turns out that Virginia has been experimenting with year-round schools. Nine elementary schools — located in Arlington County, Alexandria, Danville, Lynchburg and Richmond — were operating in the 2011-2012 school year. Now the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) has issued a report summarizing what has been learned. The main conclusions:

  • Annual school expenditures actually increase modestly, by about three percent.
  • Overall, Standard of Learning (SOL) test scores were similar for year-round and traditional calendar schools.
  • However, SOL scores for black students, and to a lesser extent Hispanic, disadvantaged and limited English proficiency students,  were more likely to exceed predicted 2009 SOL test scores.
  • School districts with large percentages of black students might consider the trade-off of higher expense for improved test scores to be worthwhile.

What accounts for the improvement? States the report:

A distinguishing feature of the year-round schools in Virginia is  intersessions. Intersessions can provide remedial and enrichment opportunities for students…. Students likely benefit from the reinforcement of recently learned concepts during intersessions, and this positive effect is particularly true for students requiring remediation. Timely and targeted intersession remediation can help those students avoid accumulated learning loss, which is especially important for subjects, such as math, that require students to master core concepts before they can move to new material. Intersessions and shorter summer breaks may also be particularly helpful for students that have few educational opportunities outside of school.

What accounts for the higher cost? The expense of providing teaching during the intersessions. Note: JLARC did not factor in increased transportation and food service costs.

Bacon’s bottom line: One of the few advantages of a school system like Virginia’s with so much power vested in the state administration is the ability to conduct tests like this to learn what works. It looks like useful knowledge has been learned. Let’s hope local school systems take appropriate advantage of it.


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6 responses to “JLARC Plugs Year-Round Schools… under Certain Circumstances”

  1. DJRippert Avatar


    You were doing so well until you wrote, “One of the few advantages of a school system like Virginia’s with so much power vested in the state administration is the ability to conduct tests like this to learn what works. “.

    If the counties and cities in Virginia had full autonomy there would be 134 ongoing experiments. Jurisdictions making the most progress over time would be copied by jurisdictions making less progress over time.

    Instead, we have the Imperial Clown Show in Richmond “allowing” five jurisdictions to try something different. Meanwhile, we still can’t beat down the “King’s Dominion Rule” that keeps all the kids in Virginia away from school until after Labor Day.

    Year round school seems like an almost obvious benefit despite the increased cost. Given the education problems in the US – why wouldn’t all school systems be allowed to use this approach of they think it will help them.

    Nanny Richmond?

    1. Actually, I agree with you that a decentralized approach is far better. You’d get a whole lot more experimentation. My sense is that the central authority of the DOE in Richmond is really suffocating. We could probably eliminate DOE and suffer little loss. The localities would be a whole lot happier.

      But, given the fact that we’ve got an over-centralized system, one of the few advantages is the ability to set up and monitor experiments in a way that controls variables and yields strong conclusions.

  2. Actually the European and Asian schools do the opposite in that they have national curricula and national testing standards.

    The mistake we make is to say we want 134 “experiments’ but we also want 134 different curricula and testing standards and that is a recipe for disaster.

    with regard to year around. Some kids don’t need it but other kids, the ones at risk and who do not have adequate parental support do need it and it is one of the biggest worries of K-3 teachers who know from experience that those kids often finish normal school barely on grade-level and fall back over the summer.

    I keep saying – you can have all the opinions you want about how schools should be done but the one reality that you cannot have an opinion about is that if kids do not receive enough education, then they will become entitlement wards of society. It behooves us all to keep this in mind as the ultimate goal when we talk about “experiments” including voucher schools.

    It’s not the kids who will do well, it’s the kids that won’t if their needs are not met.

    The “clown show” in my view is the folks who have all kinds of different ideas but don’t pay attention to the bottom line.

    The Bacon Bottom line – ought to be – what will ensure that kids of disadvantaged circumstances but who CAN learn and achieve – that they do get the resources they need so they can grow up and become contributing taxpayers.

  3. Here’s one more thing to think about. we have 50 different states with 50 different approaches to education.

    Now tell me the top 3 in terms of success AND tell me what DISTINGUISHES them from the others in the ways that lead to their superiority.

    I’ll bet that no one here in BR can give that answer and what that proves is that there is no clear ‘best way” in US schools – so far – and perhaps what might be more instructive to us is to look at the top 3 systems internationally and see how they differ from our “experiments”.

    Does anyone else find it slightly amusing that we have 50 different experiments and the world have 100 different experiments – and most of the European and Asian “experiments” clean our clocks academically and yet we spend our time talking about American schools in isolation as if they are the top in the world and need to improve only a little.

    The truth is – all 50 state “experiments” pretty much suck against their European and Asian competitors and yet we argue among ourselves… about our 50-state ‘approach”.

    1. Experimentation in public education is good. But it pales beside the experimentation in private schools, charter schools and home schools. That’s where the action is, and that’s where we’ll probably incubate the K-12 educational paradigm of the future. Until then, public schools are what we have — and we need to get as much experimentation out of them as possible.

  4. why do we think “experimentation” with private schools would be better than emulating proven European / Asian models?

    Why is it the Conservatives have a “into the frying pan” approach to things like education and budget/supply side?

    It’s almost like they have a kamikaze approach to these issues.

    if you try to make private schools do what our public schools do – nothing better will come of it.

    if you let our public schools cherry pick what the private schools want to do – they would do better but a lot of kids would be left behind.

    I’m all for private schools if you have to accept the same demographics and have to meet the same testing criteria.

    otherwise, what we are doing is setting up private schools for some kids while dumping the others.

    why do PUBLIC schools in Europe do better than us without going to private schools?

    why is that question not asked and answered when advocating private schools as the answer to public schools in the US?

    the secret to Europe and Asia is their narrow focus on proficiency in the core academic subjects. If we did that what would happen?

    If private schools dumped all the extras and focused only on core academic – the advocates would be saying that – that proves that public schools have failed and private “experiments” works – rather than comparing apples to apples.

    We are blaming our institutions for failures and instead of reforming then, we want to abandon them – for “experiments”.

    How about the “experiments” in Europe and Asia Public schools?

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