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Study: Achievement gap unmoved by year-round schools

Assistant Professor Katy Rouse concludes that year-round calendars can save schools money but won’t help boost student academic scores.

Assistant Professor Katy Rouse


If a student forgets over the summer what he just learned in the classroom, is it better to place that child in a year-round school? Research co-authored by an Elon University professor suggests it would make little difference.

Using data from North Carolina’s largest public school system, Assistant Professor Kathryn “Katy” Rouse in the Department of Economics shows that academic calendars, at least those that don’t increase the overall number of days spent in the classroom, don’t determine student achievement. It's simply not enough to space out the same amount of time off from school that children typically enjoy over the summer.

“The Impact of Year-Round Schooling on Academic Achievement: Evidence from Mandatory School Calendar Conversions” appears in the November 2012 edition of the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy. Rouse conducted the study with Steven C. McMullen, a colleague from her graduate studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rouse and McMullen analyze data from the North Carolina Education Research Data Center, which maintains achievement-related data for all public school students in the state of North Carolina. They focus on the Wake County Public School System’s 2007 decision to convert nearly two dozen elementary and middle schools from a traditional academic calendar, where children attend class from late August through early June, to a year-round calendar that intersperses time off from studies.

While conventional wisdom argues that year-round schooling is better for learning and retaining knowledge, the researchers discovered no discernible effect on academic performance. Rouse and McMullen demonstrate that the only way year-round education will improve achievement is if a child loses information at faster rates the longer he remains away from school or if he learns at slower rates the longer he remains in class.

Neither assumption appears to hold true, they conclude, which means it doesn’t matter whether children are out of school for three months in a row, or if their breaks are interspersed in two- or three-week intervals over a full year. The findings also apply across all racial groups.

Rouse and McMullen note in their article that Wake County leaders never cited academic performance as the driving force behind their decision to convert many of their buildings to year-round calendars. Rather, school officials pointed to a reduction in overcrowded facilities by stretching an academic calendar and placing children in tracks that keep at least one cohort on break at any given time.

Rouse cautions that the work isn’t a definitive statement on the benefits or harms of year-round schooling. Other social factors that range from family after-school or daycare arrangements, to property values and teacher retention, are all things impacted by changes to academic calendars.

However, when it comes to performance, “evidence for Wake County shows you aren’t hurting students, and if it’s a cost savings, it could be a win-win.”

The year-round schooling research was the third major journal article for Rouse in 2012. In October, she and McMullen published a separate paper in Economics of Education Review in which they focused on the over-crowding aspect of year-round schools. In that paper, they find year-round schooling may help to dampen the negative effects of school crowding.

Early last spring, her research into the effects of high school leadership opportunities on future educational attainment was published by Social Science Quarterly. That work pointed to a “nontrivial” link between giving students opportunities to develop leadership skills in extracurricular activities in high school, and the likelihood of them continuing their education afterward.

Rouse joined the Elon University faculty in 2009 after earning her doctorate from UNC. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics from Miami University in Ohio, and her research interests include labor economics, health economics and applied econometrics.


Eric Townsend,
12/17/2012 10:08 AM