'Balanced Calendar' on Table in House

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The sworn enemy, educators say is summer learning loss. It's a roughly 12-week period that spans summer vacation, and educators and lawmakers alike say it takes a toll on how much students learn.

"Kids get out middle of June, they don't get back until September," said Rep. Andy Schor (D-Lansing). "If they don't have an educational program or an educational summer camp for that in-between time, they lose a lot of knowledge."

To improve performance in area schools, particularly those labeled "at risk," Schor has authored a bill that would make it easier for struggling school districts to switch to what is known as a "balanced calendar."

"They learn some and then they take a week off or two weeks off and they learn more and take a week off or two weeks off and you do that year-round," said Schor. "You can beat the learning loss and it's been proven to work and lots of school districts do it, but at-risk districts don't have the money to convert the schools."

Schor's bill would provide $10 million in aid for at-risk schools, money that could be put toward installing air conditioning units in buildings so that they could be more hospitable when the summer comes.

"I hear support everywhere," said Schor. "The parents love it, the teachers love it because they get extra breaks throughout the year, they get students they don't have to reteach."

Count David Hornack as a supporter. The principal of Holt's Horizon Elementary School, which has been on a balanced calendar for 20 years, says the difference shows.

"Horizon typically out-performs our counterparts across the district and the state," said Hornack. "I would say that the summer learning slide is something we put a lot of time into trying to prevent."

Hornack says his students and faculty are more engaged and less burned out as the school year goes along. The calendar at Horizon has the same number of teaching days as schools operating on a traditional calendar, they're just spaced differently, he said.

Summer vacation encompasses six weeks -- including all of July. The remaining 4-6 weeks that normally come with summer are spread throughout the year. Horizon students are currently in the middle of a two-week, mid-winter break.

"I really believe Michigan is at a tipping point," said Hornack. "We are starting to look at what are the best ways to educate our children, and I think the balanced school calendar is one of those."

The Michigan Association of School Administrators is cautiously on board with Schor's proposal too.

"The beauty of this proposal is that it gives flexibility," said MASA's Brad Biladeau. "It allows districts that want to move in this direction to move in this direction. Districts that don't want to move in this direction don't have to."

The cost of installing air conditioning is a potential hurdle though. Schor's office estimates it could cost anything from $567,360 at Fairview Elementary in Lansing to $7,370,250 at Eastern High School.

With financial help from the state, Lansing Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul says she would very much be interested in renovating some schools and switching them to year-round calendars.

"I'm really excited about this proposal and if it goes through, we'll definitely be applying for support from it," she said. "Any way that we can take advantage of really positive legislation, which I believe this is, we're right there, right first in line."

Schor says he wants to get the bill passed by the time students are on spring break. That would give schools enough time to implement the calendar in time for the 2014-2015 school year.

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