Two recently published stories looking at Wake County's year-round school program raise questions about their academic benefits.
Historically, Wake has focused on capacity and not academics as being the main reason for its multi-track year-round schools. Some advocates of year-round schools have contended that this calendar would be better academically for low-income students because they wouldn’t experience learning loss from a long summer break typical of traditional schools.
But a recent study looking at Wake found no overall academic benefit for students using the year-round calendar. Another study, also focused on Wake, found that the year-round calendar can partially offset the negative academic impact of attending a crowded school.
“It at least effectively offset part of the crowding,” said Katy Rouse, an Elon University economics professor, on the year-round calendar. “It at least doesn’t harm academically.”
Rouse and Steven McMullen, an economics professor at Calvin College in Michigan, looked at Wake's year-rounds using data from the 2007-09 and 2008-09 school years. They chose those two years, the first ones after the mass year-round conversions in Wake, because of the "unique policy environment and a large panel dataset."
Rouse also had some firsthand knowledge of the issue having until recently lived in Cary in an area assigned to a year-round school. Her children aren't of school-age yet, but she heard from her neighbors about their concerns.
Rouse co-authored "The Impact of Year-Round Schooling on Academic Achievement: Evidence from Mandatory School Calendar Conversions." It was published in the November issue of the "American Economic Journal."
Rouse wrote that Wake’s test results showed that year-round schooling had no impact on the average student and that they found no evidence it benefited any racial subgroup.
"Despite heated debates over year-round schooling and its rapid adoption across the country, we find little evidence that a year-round calendar will benefit the average student," Rouse writes.
One limitation that Rouse acknowledges is that since the only looked at the first two years after conversion that a longer term review could find a positive impact as teachers got adjusted to the schedule.
Rouse also co-wrote "School crowding, year-round schooling, and mobile classroom use: Evidence from North Carolina." This was published in Volume 31, Issue 5, of "Economics of Eduction Review." It was published in October but, chronologically, it was written after the article in "American Economic Journal."
Rouse’s research found that there was a negative impact on reading achievement in attending a severely crowded Wake school. But her research found that the year-round calendar in Wake has positive impact on reading achievement in crowded schools.
"Given the large amount of resources at stake for school districts when making choices regarding school facilities, it is important that policy makers have accurate information," Rouse writes. "These results should at the very least reassure interested parties that while school crowding is a problem, these common solutions will partially remedy the crowding impact.
Moreover, in the cases in which one of these policy responses is significantly cheaper than additional construction, these estimates will help schools weigh the costs and benefits of various short and long term policy responses."
The research comes as the school board and county commissioners will discuss what role, if any, year-round schools should play in the 2013 bond issue.