Year-Round School in Virginia until COVID Learning Losses are Made Up

by James C. Sherlock – revised 20 December 2020

This essay will recommend that each school board implement what the title suggests. The concept is far from fanciful. COVID-related learning losses are extreme.  Summer learning losses are also a big factor on traditional school calendars.  Year-round schools are acknowledged to improve student learning, and Virginia is on board with year-round schedules.

It is up to each school board to decide. There is no slack in the schedule to decide. Each needs to make a decision in January for the decision to gain funding support by the Governor and General Assembly.

Year-round public school is not an experiment

From Public School Review:

“Data from the National Association of Year-Round Education  shows that schools in 46 states and the District of Columbia have adopted a year-round format and that nearly 3 million K-12 students in the U.S. attend a year-round school. While this figure represents only about 4 percent of all K-12 students in the U.S., it is significantly higher than it was 30 years ago, when less than 400,000 U.S. students attended school year-round.

The point is that a school board in Virginia may not know how to make the transition but there are school boards, and their consultants, who have done it successfully.

Year-round Schools are an investment in equity

Realize that year-round schools are considered an investment in equity even without the COVID interruption.

I think we should have longer school years. We now have our kids go to school about a month less than most other advanced countries, and that month makes a difference. It means that kids are losing a lot of what they learn during the year during the summer. It’s especially severe for poorer kids who may not be – may not see as many books in the house during the summers, aren’t getting supplemental educational activities.

The idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense. Now, that’s going to cost some money. Here’s an example of where you’ve got a good idea of reform: make sure our kids are in school longer. Well, that means the school is open, you’ve got to pay teachers, custodial staff, etc., but I think that would be money well spent.

— Barack Obama, NBC Interview, 2010

Notably, the NEA does not oppose year-round schools, opining only that teachers should have a say in their programmatic design.

Virginia is onboard

No new laws need to be written in Virginia.

Code of Virginia § 22.1-79.1. Opening of the school year; approvals for certain alternative schedules authorizes school boards to switch to year round schedules. That law and appropriations act funding for planning and start-up of year-round schools to improve student achievement have been in place since 2014.

They in turn are based on a 115-page, 2012 JLARC Study Review of Year-Round Schools. It is very useful to understand the thinking, experiences and rationale behind year-round schools. School boards and other readers may wish to refer to it before commenting.

The law and appropriations have been supported by both parties. See the VDOE webpage Year-Round and Extended Schools for program details. The funding policy detailed in the Superintendent’s Memo Fiscal Year 2021 Planning and Start-up Grants for Extended School Year or Year-Round School Programs is linked from that web page.

Solutions are up to each school board

So the ball is in the courts of the school boards.

Chapter 4 of the JLARC study linked above is titled Teachers, Administrators, and Parents Support Year-Round Schools, but Acknowledge Challenges. It provides a wealth of information.

It will be crucial for each school board get those groups onboard. Easy to say, but difficult to do without real work.

Start with the concept that children’s educations must be made whole after COVID and work from there to hear other ideas. Consider any other ideas, but only on that baseline.

There are several scheduling models that have proven successful and participating school boards can pick one.

The most popular year-round schedule is what’s called a 45-15 plan, in which children attend school for 45 days then have three weeks off. This schedule cycles consistently throughout the year while making minor adjustments for major holidays and teacher workdays.

Other popular year-round schedules are the 60-20 and 90-30 calendars, where students are in class for 60 or 90 days with vacations of 20 or 30 days respectively.

The proposal for year round schools to correct for COVID learning losses must be for more than 180 days per year. I suggest we need to add a month to the in-class school year each year to make up the losses.  School districts on non-year-round schedules can eliminate a month of current summer vacation.

For year-round school, a classic 90 on 30 off plan yields 192 days (weekends subtracted from 270) of instruction minus holidays and teacher in-service days, so about what we have now. In that schedule, one of the 30 day breaks spans from early December to early January. So that schedule provides roughly the same number of in school days. It’s biggest advantage is lack of summer learning loss, which has proven in studies to be a big advantage indeed.

School districts shifting to year-round schedules to mitigate COVID learning losses and summer learning losses would want to consider 100 on and 20 off schedule for three years or so to gain back the COVID learning losses. For teachers and children, that would result in an extra 22 days a year in class with shorter breaks. Teachers would still have 60 days of paid vacation annually and teacher schedules would, as now, align with the schedules of the school children of teachers who live in the district in which they teach.

That 100/20 change could be permanent for some districts or temporary until SOL results showed kids were back on track.  Districts with large numbers of disadvantaged children or those simply wishing to enrich learning may wish to consider making the 100/20 schedule permanent.  That was President Obama’s point.

The calendar model chosen will be part of gaining teacher and parent support.

State Funding

After winning approval of school boards, the issue is funding. Virginia’s 2020  Appropriations Act did not anticipate a surge in statewide demand to go to year-round schooling based on COVID learning losses.

The first question is what will it cost.

Since cost is based on demand, Virginians will need their individual school boards to consider as soon as the holidays are over whether they wish to go to a year-round schedule starting in 2021-2022.

I suggest many school boards may have no choice but to go to year round schooling if the funding is made available.  If there are alternative ways other than year round schooling that children can be made whole in their educations then they should be brought forward and evaluated.

There is actually a state funding policy in place for both planning and execution of year-round schooling. Planning grants are capped at $50,000. Applications must include evidence of commitment to pursue implementation.

Start-up grants of up to $300,000 per extended school year or year-round school may be awarded for a period of up to two years after the initial implementation year to implement new extended year or year-round school programs in either the 2020-2021 or 2021-2022 school year.

Recipients of either a planning or start-up grant (except as noted below) must provide a 20% local match to the state grant amount awarded.

The per school amount may be up to $400,000 in the case of school divisions with schools that are already failing their kids by state measures of quality. Those school divisions do not have to put up a 20% match.

The applications for state grants will be due in June, but the Governor and the General Assembly will need some estimate in the upcoming January session if they are to do anything about increasing state funding in this non-budget year.

Increased teacher pay is on the state’s budget agenda.  Year-round school is not an increased commitment in teacher time on the classic models.  Teachers who teach in excess of 180 days in an expanded school year should be paid a per-diem pro-rated to each teacher’s salary for the extra days.

There is no higher state priority that repairing the learning losses of our children. Or improving the learning opportunities overall for our most disadvantaged kids.

Federal Money

One thing the Governor and the General Assembly can do is to fence for year-round schooling some of the money for schools in the upcoming round of federal COVID appropriations.

The Federal Department of Education sent out a letter on December 1 encouraging State School Officers (Superintendent of Public Instruction in Virginia) to request flexibility in the uses of such money.


I personally do not see an alternative to year-round school to fix the problem, but others may.  If so they need to bring them forward. Now.

But we absolutely must help our children get back on track academically. School boards must work with teachers and parents to formulate a plan and execute it.

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18 responses to “Year-Round School in Virginia until COVID Learning Losses are Made Up

  1. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    Captain Sherlock I am with you all in on this one. Bring on year round schooling. I routinely remind the Superintendent and School Board of Fauquier County that this is the only true remedy. No raises or extra pay for this either. Some school teachers and the VEA have held classrooms hostage with their insistence on virtual only instruction. There should be a price to pay. Here is the bill. Year round school for the same pay. I see the equity at last.

    • Nice idea, but it will never happen. Instead, the battle to open schools in fall 2021 will be equally fierce. “But the students haven’t all been vaccinated!” “One-third of the staff refused the shots!” “There are still hundreds of cases per month in Virginia!” “There is no proof that the vaccine prevents you from spreading it!” Even a summer term? Fuhgedaboutit.

      • At some point a school board with gumption will determine that any teacher refusing to work is effectively on strike and will sever their employment.

    • I don’t think anyone would stick their neck out to require teachers to work 70 extra days for no pay. Just to put that in perspective, please consider the following, all derived from the 2019 Superintendent’s Annual Report. Based on average pay, teachers’ salary for 70 extra days across the state would amount to a tad over $2 billion, or roughly 12% of the overall public K-12 budgets in 2019.

      • I have recommended additional teacher pay.

        First, Matt, not nearly every school district will participate, so your numbers are interesting and I appreciate them but they will not be correct.

        Second, federal COVID money dedicated to the schools appears to be coming.

        Whatever the direct cost to Virginians, pay it as per diem for days in the classroom over 180 until the learning deficits are mitigated.

        Since it is exactly like building a bridge, if necessary bond the money and pay it back over 30 years with a new addition to the sales tax as a dedicated bond payment stream. No harm to the budget, the tax increase is temporary and the bonds will not hurt the state bond rating.

      • I think there are 113 school districts in Va but if you divide the 2 billion by 100 to make it easy – I think you get about 20 million and jurisdictions pay (more or less ) half so it would likely result in increases in real estate taxes.

        If they did it by refereenda, it might be interesting especially if the idea was to do it just for a couple of years to catch up from the pandemic and then reassess it after 2 years.

        I have no idea if other countries do year round or even other places in the US.

        • See the bold statement early in the essay.

          • Yep.. Thanks. I think you’re on to something. As you outline, Virginia actually has 2020 legislation to help districts that may want to do it and study data exists that confirms that year-round schooling is particularily effective for economically-disadvantaged kids.

            This sure seems to be something that CAN be done about equity. The 2012 JLARC study was interesting in that it actually did help some kids who were behind but did not seem to affect the kids that were not behind – on SOL scores. I guess I would have thought all kids SOLs would advance with more time on task.

            I’m actually a little surprised that Virgina school districts are not looking into doing this as a transition from pandemic to in-person – to help catch the kids back up especially the ones that will have fallen back the most. (Maybe some are and it’s not yet discussed publicallly).

            Finally, “year-round” is not just one way – there are multiple ways to do it including trimesters.

          • 90 – 30 or 100 – 20 are trimester schedules Larry.

          • well yup – 3 sessions of varying different lengths and different length of time between them?

            I get more feedback from teachers – confirming that economically disadvantaged fall behind during vacation and the longer the vacation – the longer it takes to catch back up.

            I think now ought to be a time when schools consider starting back come summer and staying in session until kids are caught back up – confirmed by SOLs.

  2. You’ll have an easier time getting rid of Daylight Savings Time.

    Those kids need to work the fields, and they need sunshine when they do. Besides, the people in Indiana love screwing with air travelers. “Wait! Is this East Coast time?”

  3. I have relatives in Wake County, N.C. (part of the Raleigh metro) whose two sons were on an all-year schedule. They seemed to be pretty happy with the arrangement. As I recall it worked like this: three months of school, one month of break, three months of school, one month of break, etc.

    In theory a big advantage is eliminating the long summer vacation in which students’ retention of knowledge and concepts backslides. I don’t know if the theory is backed up by empirical data or not, but that’s the theory.

    Even better would be requiring kids to spend more days in school — maybe 10 weeks in school and only three weeks off, etc.

    Is there something about 180 days of schooling? Why must that be a uniform number for all school systems — or all students? If some students aren’t mastering the material, why not extend the school year for them until they do? The system we have strikes me as rigid, bureaucratic and adapted to the needs of teachers and administrators, not to the individual needs of students.

    • “If some students aren’t mastering the material, why not extend the school year for them until they do?”

      In the old days they called that Summer School.

    • “As I recall it worked like this: three months of school, one month of break, three months of school, one month of break, etc.”

      The Virginia Beach City School System experimented with such a format at some of its schools in the mid to late-1970s. Mine was not one of them, but several friends of mine went to “guinea pig” schools and did the year-round thing for a couple of years.

      There must have been some kind of down-side at that time because they ended the experiment and never adopted it system-wide.

      • I’m assuming the downside wasn’t so obvious as they all became Trump Republicans? It is VB.

        Year round school is like the metric system. It works better. Has a basis in reality. And will never catch on here.

  4. Some of my teacher friends say that kids lose some of what they learned over summer vacation – and the ones that seem to be most affected are the economically disadvantaged.

    So when they go back, some kids catch up quick and others take longer and they are in the same grade class.

    So some get held back so that others can catch up first OR if the class pace is right for some kids – others get left behind.

    I favor year-round but it will cost more money if they actually use professional staff and not babysitters like I hear is what some schools summer school really is.

    I see this going on also in NYC:
    Officials announced major changes Friday to admissions processes for selective New York City middle and high schools in the nation’s largest school district and one of its most segregated.

    Mayor Bill de Blasio made the revisions — which advocates and integration supporters have long urged him to pursue — seven years into his tenure and one year before leaving office. Disruptions to testing and attendance brought on by the pandemic drove the timing of the changes, at least some of which are expected to outlast the coronavirus crisis.

  5. Pingback: Mitigating COVID-related learning losses – Conflicted advice gets an airing in the Richmond Times Dispatch | Bacon's Rebellion

  6. It makes perfect sense to move to year round schooling. Why do we keep billions of dollars of educational facilities dormant 3 months of the year? Why not extend the school year and perhaps shave a year off of the 1-12th grade model? Or perhaps add something useful like coding or shop classes? The only problem I see is the teachers whining about more pay.

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