David Levine

Research Scientist, University of Tennessee


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The typical number of days in school in the USA is 180 (much lower than most countries). Should we go to year round schools?

The long break in the summer sets us back. Testing in August/September shows how much students lose during this excessive break. If the USA wants to compete academically should we go to year round schools?

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    Jan 21 2014: Yes, we should go to year-round schools.

    As I understand it, the only reason for the summer break was because families needed the children's help on the farm during the summer. Summer break is an antiquated leftover from an agrarian society.
    • Jan 21 2014: I heard very much the same. There is no real justification towards it nowadays; even without changing the overall number of school days, breaking up the vacation into smaller proportions could help minimize the phenomena where students forget everything they were taught over the summer.
  • Jan 26 2014: Just changing the length of the school day or year is not the answer. The reason students forget what they were taught is they don't care. The classes are boring, long, and full of apparently useless information. If you can make classes students enjoy, you can have students that will learn. I ask classmates why they wont join art class when they draw in class all the time. They tell me it is because they do not want someone telling them what to draw. What if you had an art class where the assignment was, "make art"? then the class would progress into more and more specific assignments. make a painting this week, make a drawing the next. All the while the students are forced to have an idea, or at the very least practice expressing themselves. What about a "thinking" class? It could be built as a giant conversation. The assignments could be a range of things. Watch a video, listen to a song, write a poem, have a debate, or just take a nap or help others with homework. It would be geared towards getting kids to think, and talk, and practice communicating there ideas, but also getting ideas in the first place.

    We have English class to practice translating thought to written word and back again, we have science to learn about structuring questions and investigations to reach a conclusion, but where are they supposed to get inspiration? You cant teach it, you can only practice it. If students are given more freedom, they can explore themselves, and compare themselves to others so they can get an idea of what humanity is. Long rigid classes trying to get people to remember this list of facts this week and this one the next, are not working. Changing the size of the lists wont help.
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    Jan 24 2014: Yes, and while we are at it, let's use the additional time to bring back physical education, some of the fine arts.
    Lets take the additional time to better evaluate each child and help them find a career path that will give them a satisfying adult life. And we must not forget the information for them to become responsible adults. Some will be destined for advanced studies. But let's not dismiss those students who do not. We need every skill to make life all it can be. As my father said "You don't need a rocket scientist, when the toilet is not working." While we are at it, let's take time to teach them critical thinking. We have lost that ability, it seems. I agree, we need to have our children spend more days in school. I can also see shorter school days..Like bankers, start at nine and leave at three. After all too much of a good thing...
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      Jan 24 2014: I agree with everything you said and would add just 1 thing. Reading seems to be overlooked these days (and I can't just blame the kids). With hundred's of channels of TV, Netflix, etc. why read? Reading improves concentration, imagination, vocabulary, empathy, etc. I have to force my kids to read more but it also improves their writing skills tremendously.
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        Jan 24 2014: Thank you, David.
        Yes, I did forget about reading. You are entirely correct about the ability to read. I am a book nut, I still have college texts from 50 odd years ago, including those on computer science,
        They are a little outdated, but I can't get rid of them.
        Also let's add practical arithmetic. People going into trades need math that is functionally focused. Calculus is fine, but let's teach trig that applies to roof trusses and stair risers.
        You are correct, I left out a dozen things.
      • Jan 27 2014: David,

        Agree reading is very important but writing and speaking are equally important. Several high school students asked for my suggestion for a school and I suggested a good liberal arts school or a tech school with a major emphasis on liberal arts. They were majoring in Comp Sci. One went to McGill and now is making a fortune on Wall Street (think he would prefer being in Montreal)

        I find too many engineers can not write or speak well.
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        Jan 27 2014: Reading is very important. But don't forget that it is even more important to understand what we read, draw conclusions from what we have read. I learned to read when I was 4, from then I read hundreds of books until I went to the University, but I think I really didn't know how to read. After at the University, a professor of Philosophy taught us all how to read really. I have not forgotten him, half a century later. My gratitude to him and to all the teachers that do care about how to raise and change kids into truly People, not only statistical numbers or something so.
        Your profession is very important to society, it's much needed for all of us, I sincerely think it's beautiful; but it also generates a great responsibility when not properly exercised. Everybody who teach ought to love their task. Thank you very much, anyway.
  • Jan 22 2014: We need academics year round. As a country we are under educating our children. A longer year, longer days may help our students, but will create opposition from many quarters. When the state of SC advocated for starting school at the beginning of August, the resort areas opposed it stating they needed those high school students in their labor force and school traffic would hurt their summer tourist trade. Everyone opposes change for one reason or another.

    Personally, I hate the current school year. With a wife who is a teacher and two children active in sports and school activities it is very confining. One year my wife and son had a modified year starting in August and ending late in June with a 2 week fall break, week at Thanksgiving, 3 weeks at Christmas, 2 weeks in Feb., and a week at Easter. They got their 180 days in. we had time to take a few long weekend trips. No one got bored being out of school. Family mental health seemed better also. The next year it was back to the original plan, to many people didn't like the change.

    To create a better education system we need to try new things with supportive constituencies. Basically school choice by means of state-wide open enrollment. Then parents and students can chose how they want their school year and length of school day, intensity of academic rigor, concentrations of academic studies. Unless we are open to change, even experimental, we are doomed to keep being less competitive on the education front.
  • Jan 22 2014: Few thoughts here.

    A lot is said about how we are not competing well academically on a world stage, but aren't most other countries more homogenous in terms of culture, ethnicity, and family unit make-up? America is a melting pot, so we are faced with people constantly involved in struggling to integrate and adapt into society, this takes time and energy. We offer opportunity to many that the rest of the world does not, but opportunity isn't a gift, it is a chance to struggle and let the fruits of your labor somehow bring benefit to you and your family-this takes time and energy. Children observing or involved in both of these lessons learn something pretty valuable but not academic. The lessons of hope, work ethic, and virtues of good citizenship at a local, national, and world level need to be learned as well as academics.

    You can go year round and not increase the number of days. Perhaps four one month breaks instead of one one three month break and a bunch of holidays.

    Learning need not stop over the summer. Providing Camps, Sports, and recreational activities over a period of good weather could lead to different types of learning.

    There is a value to time spent with your family at home and on vacations. Some of the issues facing our nation are caused by detached and dysfunctional families more than lack of academic competitiveness.

    Keeping kids motivated to stay on task might be difficult if there wasn't something like a long summer break to look forward to during the winter months.

    Some agricultural families might still need help at home with extra chores around harvesting season.

    A lot of families are balancing child care and two working parents. Not sure whether year round school would help or hurt this balance, but it is a consideration.
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      Jan 22 2014: Lot's of good thoughts here. I guess the big argument many people make is that most (especially lower income) students spend the summer falling behind by not pursuing any academics. The families with more resources don't tend to lose as much ground over the summer - at least the house may be filled with books to read. Compared to China where students learn year round in America students tend to spend the summers "vegging out". Again a generalization but you get my thought.
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    Jan 21 2014: If I might offer another dimension to this question, what are children doing in summer when they are not in school and how does the value of that for their quality of life compare to the value of being in school during that time?

    I pose my question in this way for two reasons. First, many participants in TED Conversations believe strongly that the LESS time people spend in school the better off they are. Second, a free summer may be much more enriching for some students than for others, depending on the resources available to them, which is part of the explanation for why some students seem to be in a very different place once they finish high school than others are. Some students get internships or take classes or go to enriching camps. Some older students may work or involve themselves in community service. Some kids do projects of their own at home, the pursuit of interests and passions that don't fit into the school year. Some watch television and play computer games.
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      Jan 22 2014: Lower income students tend to watch TV. Those with more resources enjoy camps, academic enrichment, etc. But even those students test worse in the fall than they did at the end of the previous school year.

      The message in the US is work for 9 months then get a great break! The message in China is work hard all year. Who likely develops better study and work habits?
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        Jan 22 2014: I notice that many of the young participants here from countries that promote the most intensive effort at school, typically schools in Asia, are deeply concerned about the stress and stifling of creative thought they believe comes hand in hand with that constant high level of pressure year round within an externally driven structure.

        In terms of your characterization of working hard and getting a great break, one might take as a case the way time is structured typically at a university. There is one kind of activity both for scholars and budding scholars from September through May or June and then summer allows a more focused involvement in activities that are more individualized and focused on the individual's agenda. Your colleagues who teach and do lots of committee work alongside their research can in summer focus on research and collaboration with colleagues around the globe and efforts that offer stretches of focused, uninterrupted time. Scholars even take sabbaticals for additional time to free themselves of institutional constraints on their time.

        I see you are a professor. Do you teach at your university every quarter?

        Work and learning do not necessarily stop because people's time is temporarily not driven by an external structure.

        Again, people make different use of summer, but I don't want to leave things at an image that having a stretch of self-directed time in a year is necessarily less conducive to learning and creativity than an environment of year round regimentation of the use of time. Students may forget some of what they learn and need to review but one might also for completeness measure or describe what they gained that does not show on the beginning of course test.
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          Jan 22 2014: I work 12 months at my University - the medical programs don't take breaks! In a lot of research fields (biology, etc.) there is no summer off either. Granted a lot of professors do get the summer off or have a 2nd job then or do research.

          The general point I was making was that most kids (5-16) in the US seem to view the summer as a vacation, not a time to pursue more than a tan and some fun. And I live in an area that would be rated toward the top of the country.
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        Jan 22 2014: My point was exactly that for scholars and researchers, summer is not "off." Research activities simply becomes more focused.

        I am sure trends in the use of summer vary greatly. When I asked my son what he would think of year-round school, he asked when young people would do camps, do service in community organizations, and work in labs.

        What I see, but what may vary greatly across the country and the world, is that kids do an enormous amount of homework, not only every night but also on weekends. I do know many kids- and their parents- see summer as a time of relief from late nights of study.
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    Jan 21 2014: Great idea, Mr. Levine!

    ANOTHER IDEA TO IMPROVE EDUCATION: The government collects education money/taxes, mainly through property taxes. One effective way to efficiently use these taxes is to grant the money to private educational institutions or companies that can prove they could provide the best curriculum and instruction to students - similar to what NASA, DARPA, the US Military, and other government agencies are doing when they have projects or jobs that require the efficient management of money and resources and the best solutions to solve problems.

    In some ways this is already being done when a charter school is set-up to replace a dysfunctional public school. The only problem is that so many charter schools have proven to be no better than the schools they have replaced.

    There must be a better way. One way is to adopt the X-Prize approach (The X-Prize uses ingenious ways to encourage healthy competition, promote creativity and innovation, maximize use of resources, and minimize waste and abuse). With this approach, we might end up having the best school adminitrators manage our schools and the best teachers teach our children.

    Private enterprises, in general, have proven to be efficient in managing limited resources and hiring, training, and maintaining qualified personnel to meet their objectives and accomplish their goals.
  • Jan 25 2014: I firmly believe that we should extend the number of days students go to school. I would also think about increasing the time per subject, maybe copying the colleges that have gone to a trimester plan with a special summer program. This should also be integrated with online and flipping.
  • Jan 22 2014: I come from a country where we believe give huge focus on academics , the kid is kept so busy with homework and assignments, projects that he barely get any time for any play, or fun during school days or during the academic year including all holidays . The kids are so busy that after their final exam that is in April ( here let me say our academic year ends in april and starts in june ) they are waiting for a relief from their hectic routine .To certain extent i feel that should be there , for him or her to relax and spend some time with his or her parents have a small vacation for family bounding , spend some time with their grand parents .
    Following are two approaches i have on having summer vacation .
    I feel summer break may be reduced to 1 month instead of 2 months as every kid should get some amount of time to be with himself , where he can be more creative , or engage themselves in some home activity where he will always learn something ,we should train our kids to learn always where they go .Probably Schools can take initiative in this and spend last 10 days with kids and ask them or give them ideas how they can make their summer productive . Or they can give them a small fun homework which they can do in vacations , which will prepare them for next year .
    the second approach is not very different just the homework part is removed from it . Every kid is different and some kids learn through schools and some learn on their own , they should get some time to figure out what they can do when they get bored during summer vacation and not be told by their parents or schools or teachers what they need to do .
    I feel they all will surely come up with some good ideas , which will be their own , and here parents will come in try to support them with their ideas ( just parents should be more alert what ideas they are coming up with ) .
    I read all the thoughts of different people mine may be to certain extent same , but here is what I feel ...
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    Jan 21 2014: Makes sense to me!

    And how can we compete against countries where children go to school 100 days a year more!
  • Feb 2 2014: I would not want them to go through that.
    I've heard that a big problem was that a lot was forgotten over the summer when no use was being made of the knowledge, (which is probably a result of trying to cram-in useless data).
    Would it help to get them back to school once every two weeks for a half-day test on everything they learned that year?
  • Jan 27 2014: When I was teaching calculus, I gave my classes a quiz on the 1st day testing basic skills (1/2 + 1/3). I had students that scored less than 10%. I told them the only way they could pass is if they worked very hard. One or two did and I was proud to give them passing grades.
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    Jan 26 2014: Tests shouldn't come before learning but unfortunately (at least were I live) school funding is based on test performances of the students. That needs to change but people like to compare one school to the next - there has to be a better school!
    • Jan 27 2014: I would agree. I look at the number of graduating seniors and how many go to college. This will indicate the number of good students. I think that school systems should be judged by the results (not high school but college, how well they did in college and how well they do in industry)

      That is the way we should judge teachers and the school systems. For those in challenging districts, there could be some additional factor added.
    • Jan 27 2014: sounds like the problem is how schools get funding
  • Jan 26 2014: Ok so maybe you will actually want a students oppinion, so as it currently stands the education system is really screwed up. As much as the department of education is in control of the situation, each district is like its own city state. The country makes the rules but the management makes all of the other decisions. If we want to improve test sores and actually create the geniuses we are seeing less and less of, then we have to set accross the board standards and then let the kids make the decisions about their lives from there.
    Consider that the worst punishment in school is to be kicked out or suspended for doing something. Now to a kid, that is not much, bit they have learned from their mistake usually and if it is bad enough then they probably won't make that same mistake in their adulthood where the punishments can be a lot worse. Now by providing the kids with freedom you have taught them independence, self relience, and a lession, all while holding them to the strict social structure of the goverment and possibly more important, the real world.
    Now if we just force them into year long schools then they will still learn and yes some will do better, but to a kid the greatest reward is a BREAK. You give them 12 full years of work and they will drop out the second they can. You ever wondered why chineese suicide rate is so much higher? Sure you can blame it on a higher population but something has to drive them to it and being shoved into an adult work schedual from 3-5 years old will do it pretty dang fast
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    Jan 26 2014: I agree with a lot of this but the problem is that school funding is based on testing scores, thus the schools focus on the things that will improve these scores. So freedom for different types of learning becomes minimally important!
    • Jan 26 2014: If students are taught what they are doing when they plug in an equation to solve a problem, maybe shown how to derive it themselves, And they have the tools to think logically, they can apply the knowledge to a wider range of problems than a student just told to plug and chug. If teachers whole class is telling the students to do this when this happens and this if it doesn't, what have they done? Giving students the tools to come to these conclusions and solutions should improve scores, and also better prepare the students for real life situations

      Also, since when does a test come before the students? If teachers are forced to hammer in lists of facts to fit a test, then the test is useless. Instead of gauging the students learning and abilities it is hindering there learning.
  • Jan 23 2014: Let me suggest a reasonable solution to your question. But first, my approach is based upon that the school hours must be longer than we have here in the U. S. The important thing is that some students certainly like to learn more than what were given today with limited time period within the year to have an conducive school environment to study, or even behavioral changes from the interaction among the students themselves with or without the teachers. My suggestion is as follows:
    1. The school period should be about 7 to 8 hours per day when the school is in session. During that time, there are classes with formal teaching by the teachers, but they should be limited to no more than 6 hours per day, 5 hours are also fine. During the rest of the day, the student could be allowed to join other activities as s/he to choose. Some might prefer to study additional materials in the library, or watching packaged internet courses. A few could take athletic training or artistic activities. Most of these activities may require a supervisory person, but they don't have to be a regular teacher. This arrangement can not only give the students more opportunity to better themselves at a voluntary basis or free choice, it also relieves some parents to pick up their children or have to stay home when the school recess at say 3 PM.
    2. The holiday or vacation period for the school really does not make much sense for schools in different areas of a country such as the U. S. If you live in Phoenix, Houston or New Orleans, (Minneapolis would be opposite), the summer vacation does not fit for the students and parents to travel within the area, because they are too hot and/or humid for much enjoyment of outside activities. While the "winter time" would be ideal for family excursion or activities for the residents of these areas. It is also better to not have long vacation time, therefore the vacation time could be cut up to 4 periods including the new year, Xmas and Independence day, etc.
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    Jan 22 2014: Well said. Change is not a bad thing.
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    Jan 22 2014: 180 days or 863 teaching hours is what is called for in Arizona also. We have looked at 4 sets of 60 days and 4 sets of 30 days off .... we have looked at 4 day weeks with Friday optional for students passing and mandatory for anyone with a failing or projected failing grade ... we have looked at year around ... we have examined 8 hour days ... open campus .. closed campus .... A days and B days .... and everything between.

    The problems far out weigh the options. Unions went nuts on us for even considering some of the options ... teachers said they would quit if this and stay if that .... how we are funded (seat time in Arizona) had a bearing on state and federal budgeting and grants .... both preventative and scheduled maintenance .... operations costs ... parents would just take their kids out for vacation when they wanted if we changed ... attention span issues .... educational burn out if we over do it .... and just plain ain't gonna happen.

    I am a fan of beginning of course test and end of course tests to measure what they enter with and what they have retained ... I like marker quizzes to ensure we are on track to succeed ...

    Could we get back on the academic track? Yes by getting the state and federal lawmakers out of the way and getting teachers back in charge. The power currently rests with textbook writers and test developers. We need to get away from the high stakes testing and do more spot quizzes. We need to have the power to fail the deserving without consequences to either the teacher or the budget. We are satisfied with the right answer where we should only be satisfied with application / demonstration.

    I advocate a self paced curriculum of a course map divided into subject modules that require the student to demonstrate competent or non competent .. if non competent then review or assistance is required and re test to advance to the next module.

    The problems are external. No space. Bob.
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      Jan 22 2014: I honestly didn't contemplate the practicalities much - great points.

      I like your thoughts here "I am a fan of beginning of course test and end of course tests to measure what they enter with and what they have retained ... I like marker quizzes to ensure we are on track to succeed ... "

      I think my children (and they have a lot of advantages) still lose ground over the summer and would test lower in August than in the preceding May.

      And this could be a huge thread on its own "I advocate a self paced curriculum of a course map divided into subject modules that require the student to demonstrate competent or non competent .. if non competent then review or assistance is required and re test to advance to the next module. "
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        Jan 23 2014: David, I agree all kids lose over the summer ... some more than others. Fritzie made a case for the supportive parents and the serious students ... they USE the summer in various means to their benefit.

        My grandkids spend some time with us during the summers ... I have them enrolled in Khanacademy.org and they must put in one hour in the AM and one hour in the PM daily during their stay. One hour must be on the next module in Math and the other a science of their choice. These are of the grade level of the grade they are entering and the course they are scheduled to take. By doing this they are rewarded for their efforts by trips and recreational choices.

        We are a reading family so we also discuss books ... last summer we read Taming of the Shrew and after watched the movie with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor then we compared the two.

        I don't suggest using the entrance and exit testing as a grading tool but rather as a tool for the teacher to beginning refreshers prior to launching into the new material.

        Another pet of mine is vocabulary ... I think that once you nail down the terms and understand their place in the process you have mostly mastered the subject. In short subjects are languages ... if you accurately speak math odds are you will succeed in math. So we spend time on the vocabulary of the subjects they are taking.

        At first they resisted but we make it fun and do it together .... and yes they do slow down and help grandpa.

        Always a pleasure to talk to you. Bob.
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          Jan 23 2014: Parental involvement is the key - I agree. The school and teachers cannot do it alone. My thought was not that we need school year round but maybe a more structured way of thinking of summer break. It might be reduced to 6 weeks though.

          Kids look at it as a break - but most kids really enjoy school and miss it!
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      Jan 22 2014: First you say that "Unions went nuts for even considering some of the options." Then you say 'get the teachers back in charge.'

      I think you were right the first time. The problem is that teachers (through the unions) ARE in charge, instead of the public. get rid of the unions, and let the funding follow the child instead of the school, as it does in Europe. Then we can reform education to the benefit of the students instead of the employees.
  • Jan 22 2014: Hi David,why should we go to schools?what do you mean'the long break in the summer sets us back?why do we want to learn?and when the learning happens?Do you think when the Testing scores are inscreasing means children are learning?For yieling of academical Tests from international news,I asking myself those things,I keep asking...China testing scores are high,but what?It depends....to realise clearly is the most important,don't drop into China high test scores' trick.How to balance that but just pursuit high scores in Testing
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      Jan 22 2014: Not sure abut some of your thoughts but if kids are used to studying hard, then stop for 3 months, what does that teach them? The routine of learning daily is important for success.
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    Jan 21 2014: Another example: