IMPROVING ACADEMIES (INTERSESSIONS) PERFORMANCE
The need for adding more days to the school year has been considered since the publication of A Nation At Risk in the 1980s. Since that time, the length of the school year has reached 180 days for most of the public school districts. However, the 180-day school year itself is now seen as inadequate for educating students for 21st century living. Advocates for a longer school year no longer consist of alternative calendar supporters alone. Governors and legislatures in some states have joined in the call for extending the school year.
A recent study, “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap” conducted by researchers from John Hopkins University, identified a school year of 240 days as a means of lowering the learning gap between low socioeconomic status and high socioeconomic status students. The probability of achieving a 240-day school year in the near term appears remote given added cost and other factors. However, some schools/school districts are extending the school year to 210 days. Schools/school districts with added days to the school year are beginning to show that added value is resulting from the time extension.
Schools/school districts operating longer than 180 days a year are described as being on some form of year-round education. Such schools/school districts have three or more academic sessions per year as opposed to the two semester school year. Breaks are interspersed between the academic sessions. The sum of the break days plus the 180 days of instruction results in an extended school year. Effective and efficient use of the break periods is a key determinant of extended school year success.
School year breaks are divided into two parts: academies (intersessions) and vacation days for students and teachers. The longer part of the break period is used for academic instruction. Academic instruction is implemented through academies (intersessions). Schools/school districts have been left very much upon their own in developing academies (intersessions). Education researchers seem to have avoided studies of academies (intersessions). It is generally accepted that academies (intersessions) ought to provide for remediation, enrichment, and acceleration. Beyond those three generalities, schools/school districts have little guidance in creating effective and efficient academy (intersession) programs.
Even though design of academies (intersessions) is not research-based, some design approaches now being used by schools/school districts are worthy of consideration in creating effective, efficient academies (intersessions). Approaches employed follow:
Make academies (intersessions) attendance mandatory for all students.
Make the program cost free to all students.
Provide transportation and lunch programs for academies (intersessions).
Structure the programs based on student needs as determined by achievement performance.
Employ teachers and staff specialists as program instructors and as program designers.
Differentiate the program into components applicable to student development levels.
Implement the programs on a full day schedule.
Keep parents aware of the program’s purpose.
Establish required outcomes for the program based upon both individual student needs and overall program performance.
Measure obtained program’s results.
Create a “lessons learned” file for use in modifying the program for future academies (intersessions).
It is a truism that designing and implementing effective and efficient academies (intersessions) is a demanding task for a school/school district. Unless the task results in providing added value to the school/school district through additional quality instruction to its students, the days added to the school year will accomplish little. Schools/school districts and their students are the winners when effective and efficient academies (intersessions) are in place.