Chief Proposes Year-Round Classes to Aid Ailing Programs

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 4, 2006

D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey is proposing year-round classes at five mainly low-achieving schools in an effort to give students more time in the classroom by shortening the long summer break.

The proposal, which is the school system's first attempt to adjust the traditional calendar, will probably ignite a local and nationwide debate: Education experts extol the benefits of a year-round calendar, citing studies that show significant knowledge loss over the summer, but many parents argue that children need downtime.

Janey said he expects to select the five schools -- at least three of which would be low-performing -- by December.

Janey has proposed adding as many as 20 days to the 180-day calendar at the five schools, in part because he says he is running out of options to help students in low-performing schools.

School system officials have said they will release data this month showing that a large number of District schools failed to meet academic benchmarks on a more rigorous student assessment introduced in the spring. Results will be worse than last year, officials said, when about 80 of 147 schools failed to reach academic goals under the previous exam.

The federal No Child Left Behind law gives students in low-performing schools the right to transfer to higher-achieving schools, but some say there will not be enough high-performing schools to accommodate the possible transfers.

"You can't talk about transferring anyone in this environment. You've got to take a radical approach" to boosting student achievement, said Carolyn N. Graham, the vice president of the Board of Education.

"The board is fully supportive of an aggressive approach," she said. Extra money to run the schools year-round, she said, would come from $8 million in annual savings from the board's decision in June to close five under-enrolled schools.

But Cherita Whiting, who is on the board of directors of the citywide PTA, said extending the school year into the summer would rob students of time with their families and at summer camp.

"Students need parent time, and they need time to themselves," said Whiting, who has a son at McKinley Technology High School in Eckington. "The administration needs to make sure the schools are doing what they're supposed to be doing from August to June" so that the year won't have to be extended.

Locally, only a few schools -- including Samuel W. Tucker and Mount Vernon elementary schools in Alexandria and E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in Northwest Washington -- are operating on a year-round or modified calendar. Rushern L. Baker III (D), a former state delegate, has called for year-round schooling in Prince George's County, where he is trying to unseat County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) in the Sept. 12 primary.

Janey's proposal is part of an effort to compete more aggressively with charter schools, which have drawn nearly 20,000 D.C. students in the past decade.

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