Chicago Public Schools needs to switch to a year-round calendar this fall

“Year-round” misleads. Students do not attend school for twelve months. Instead, this calendar includes a shorter summer break and other breaks throughout the year.

We know that returning to the new normal in a post-pandemic world means change. Especially in education, we cannot return to teaching and learning and systems because “that’s what we used to do.”

The education conversation to this point–amplified by many white bloggers, columnists, and journalists–has focused on the learning loss.

But in a recent media event, Illinois’ State Superintendent Carmen Ayala avoided the use of “learning loss.” Instead, she talked about the “learning impact.”

The learning impact remains clear: low-income, Black and Brown youth have always needed more support than their affluent peers.

Furthermore, our students’ and staff’s mental health should be prioritized so high-quality teaching and learning can happen.

Changing the school calendar to include a shorter summer break and more breaks throughout the school year will address the inequalities revealed by the pandemic.

A year-round calendar isn’t new to Chicago Public Schools. In the 2000s, elementary schools on the city’s Southwest side became so overcrowded due to population shifts that CPS adopted up to five tracks or calendars.

Ten years ago, I experienced Track E while temporarily teaching middle school. With this calendar, students returned mid-August, enjoyed a one week break in October, a three-week winter break, and a two-week spring break.

(And spring break should not be determined by Holy week–but that’s another blog post.)

Aside from decreasing summer break to address the learning impact–which the district is already discussing–a year-round calendar gives students and staff and families well-distributed breaks where we can focus on other aspects of life in a post-pandemic world.

If school buildings need to close because of COVID-19 cases, the scheduled breaks in a year-round school calendar facilitate quarantining and cleaning.

According to a 2014 Congressional Service Report (prepared with and for Congress), year-round schools provide these benefits:

–The use of year-round schools can prevent the loss of learning over the summer, which may be a particular problem for children with special educational needs (e.g., English learners) and addresses the uneven effects of the summer break onstudents based on socioeconomic status.

–Using a modified school calendar creates opportunities to provide remediation and enrichment activities to students during the school year rather than waiting to provide these activities during summer school.

–The use of a balanced calendar could help to prevent staff [and student] burnout by providing more frequent breaks for staff.

A school’s schedule absolutely makes a difference. During the pandemic, Chicago high schools still using the traditional eight-period-a-day schedule realized students could not function well attending seven fifty-minute classes every single school day.

High schools already using a block schedule (four longer periods a day) found remote learning more manageable.

Of course, having school in August means schools need adequate air conditioning. These Chicago Public Schools students produced this podcast episode last year about uncomfortable classrooms during a hot September without A/C.

(The podcast is on SoundCloud, a site blocked by CPS server. Do the internet-log-in thing to listen if needed.)

But it’s March. Chicago Public Schools can begin planning for those hot days now.

And the Chicago Teachers Union needs to make adequate heating and cooling in schools a contract-negotiation issue.

Changing to a year-round calendar will require some getting used to. But after all the changes that resulted from the pandemic, a year-round school calendar will prove beneficial–especially for the students most affect the pandemic’s learning impact.

Take advantage of the “Teaching Editorial Writing” virtual workshop this Wednesday.

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