To alleviate public school overcrowding, provide more effective instruction, raise the performance level of students, and reduce pressure on working parents, the federal government should support a move to keep public schools open all day and throughout the year. All-day schooling would involve keeping schools open past normal hours, providing educational and enrichment activities after traditional instruction has ended. Year-round education would entail keeping schools open for all students, not just the academically challenged, during the summer and might include a shift in the traditional school calendar—eliminating summer vacation for students and replacing it with much shorter breaks throughout the year.


The standard U.S. school schedule, based on a nine-month year and a seven-hour day, has its origins in the agricultural calendar, when children worked on the farm after school and during the summer. This no longer seems appropriate in an era in which both fathers and mothers typically work outside the home (see Figure 1), and when the economy seems to be demanding more advanced skills from U.S. students. The following observations suggest the magnitude of the problem:

Source: U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, 2004 Green Book: Background Material and Data on Programs within the Jurisdiction of the Committee of Ways and Means (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004).

• Teachers spend approximately four weeks reteaching lessons at the beginning of each school year because over the summer students forget what they had learned the previous year. Research indicates that the problem of summer learning loss is most acute for low-income students.1

• Since most school days run from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M., for only nine months out of the year, working parents often need to find day care, after-school care, and transportation for their children.

• Nearly half of families have no regular after-school arrangement for their children.Yet only 40 percent of all public schools offer any kind of after-school activities.3 Reflecting this mismatch between demand and supply, significant numbers of children wind up caring for themselves after school (see Figure 2).

• Juvenile violent crime peaks between 2 P.M. and 4 P.M. on school days.4

Source: Data from National Household Education Surveys Program, “Before- and After-School Care, Programs, and Activities of Children in Kindergarten Through Eighth Grade: 2001, Statistical Analysis Report,” National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, April 2004.


There are two basic ideas for restructuring the school year. The first is the idea of all-day schooling. This would keep the school open after the traditional school hours for enrichment or recreational activities. Tutoring or remedial work could also be offered. This adds value to the standard school day, as well as providing a more academic environment than traditional after-school or daycare. All-day schools are now attended by 2.3 million students, mostly in California.5

The second idea, which is rapidly gaining in popularity (see Figure 3), is year-round education, also known as year-round schooling, or all-year schooling. In its most popular incarnation—though there is no intrinsic reason why it has to be structured in this way—year-round education involves using alternative school calendars that eliminate the traditional summer vacation and replace it with shorter breaks throughout the year. The idea is that these briefer breaks reduce the amount of learning loss that occurs during the summer break, and that the breaks throughout the year keep students and teachers refreshed. Finding child care can be problematic for these two- or three-week vacation breaks, but many schools are open for these breaks and provide enrichment programs.

There are as many different school calendars for year-round education as there are for traditional schools, although almost all of them cover 180 days,6 the same number as for traditional schools.7 The most popular plan is the 45-15 plan, which consists of 45 days of instruction, followed by 15 days of vacation.

Source: Data from the National Association for Year-Round Education website,

The year-round education calendar also allows for a number of different tracks, a feature that schools at risk of being overcrowded especially appreciate. Under multitracking, there is always subset of students (and their teachers) on vacation at any given time in the school year, so that more students can, in effect, attend a smaller school. For example, a school that operated on a five-track plan could fit five classrooms of students into four classrooms, since, throughout the school year, students from one track or another would always be on their break. This reduces the strain on teachers and resources, particularly in schools where smaller class sizes are desired or mandated.

The ideas of all-day schooling and year-round education can be, and are, combined in schools that are open both all year and all day—though typically without the changed schedules described above. In other words, students in these schools still have a standard summer vacation, but the schools remain open during the summer and offer classes to all students who are interested. (Note the difference from traditional summer school, which is typically provided just for academically failing students.) “Full-service” or “community” schools are all-day schools that add a wide range of social services available through the school, typically in partnership with community-based organizations. Thus, a full-service school might fill its after-school hours with everything from intensive academic instruction to dance and musical activities to health clinics and job training workshops.


The number of schoolchildren in year-round schools nationwide is currently 2.3 million, and ninety percent of them are in the western United States. The preponderance of these schools run on alternative calendars and are located in Texas or California, which have rapidly growing school-age populations. Moreover, California recently passed an initiative to reduce the number of children in each class. Rather than building new schools, many districts there have launched a trial period for the program and some have officially adopted it. The majority of year-round education students are in primary or middle schools, since high school students have more interschool and interdistrict activities, such as athletics, and are more likely to hold summer jobs.

The two primary reasons for adopting this model of year-round schooling are to reduce overcrowding without building new schools and to increase the achievement of students at these schools. While there is some debate over whether this method of reducing overcrowding is cheaper than building new schools, there is little doubt about the plan’s success in reducing overcrowding.8

It is more difficult to measure success in raising student achievement. Because year-round education is something that is adopted by individual school districts and has not yet become a matter of state or federal policy, rigorous, large-scale evaluation studies to test whether students perform better in year-round schools have not been done. Limited studies of achievement effects in local school systems, mostly in California, have indicated mixed results. However, where year-round education is accompanied by intersession enrichment and remedial programs and other extensions of the school year—as opposed to simply stretching out the school year with more, but smaller breaks—achievement effects tend to be positive. In addition, surveys of students, parents, teachers, and administrators typically indicate positive evaluations of year-round schooling.

Teachers, for the most part, are supportive of this approach to year-round education. Currently, when a school district designs a year-round school, the teachers are offered the option of teaching in that school or in a school with a traditional schedule. Most year-round schools, rather than finding a dearth of teachers, find that many more teachers are interested than are needed. They find that the students are more excited to come to school and retain more of what they are taught. Teachers also have the opportunity to pick up extra classes in multitrack schools or to run extracurriculars and remedial intersessions, which would increase their pay. There is also a corresponding pay increase for teachers in schools that bump up the number of days in their schedule. However, to convert a large number of school districts to this new model would require extensive negotiations with the teachers and their unions to ensure satisfaction on both sides.

All-day schooling, using several different types of schedules, has received a similarly positive response from families and students. For example, the Cason Lane Academy, a public full-service school in Tennessee, does not require its students to stay longer than 3:00 P.M., the end of the normal school day, but approximately half of the student population does. They are then able to take various recreational and remedial classes, including math tutoring, cooking, and a Lego club. These classes are well attended, and continue until 5:00 P.M., although students who may need further supervision are given it.

The Olson School in Minneapolis takes a different tack. Students at Olson are required to stay the entire day, which runs from 7:45 A.M. until 5:00 P.M. They study traditional subjects until 2:00 P.M., followed by free time and then recreational classes in foreign languages, music, art, and physical education. Though more rigorous than most all-day school programs, the Olson school nevertheless receives strong support from parents and teachers.

Outside of the United States, all-day are becoming more prevalent. In Germany, the government is currently working to have 30 percent of six-to-twelve-year-olds in all-day schools by 2010. A government study there found that students acquire only 35 percent of their educational competence in school; all-day schools will allow the state to help students acquire non-school education through cultural, sports, and other activities.9

Attempts to evaluate these efforts so far are sparse. Certainly, there is a large literature about the positive effects of after-school care, particularly compared to alternatives like self-care and particularly for low-income children. But this is different from studies that look specifically at the effectiveness of the models described here: all-day schools and full-service schools that go far beyond mere child care and may be open year-round. What data there are do suggest high levels of parental and student satisfaction with these programs, positive effects on achievement and attendance, and reduced delinquency. But results are preliminary and await more intensive study as the incidence of these programs grows.



The costs of the alternative-calendar model of year-round education are very difficult to estimate. This type of year-round education is frequently implemented on a multitrack basis, as a solution to overcrowding, and so any costs or savings must be weighed against the costs of building more schools. On the other hand, when implemented on a one-track basis, there are presumably additional costs associated with keeping a school open year-round without any off-setting savings from not having to build more schools. This will be true particularly when year-round education is linked to intersession enrichment and remedial programs, as research suggests it probably should be. What the net cost result would be nationwide, therefore, depends very much on how many schools would implement multitrack schedules designed primarily to reduce overcrowding and how many would implement single-track schedules designed primarily to raise student performance. At this point, we simply do not know what these relative weights might be and consequently lack a basis for making an overall cost estimate.

The costs of all-day schools should, in principle, be easier to work out: simply estimate the cost per student of providing the service and multiply by the number likely to use the service. The problem is that there are wildly varying estimates of the former—from $650 to $4,000 per student, reflecting everything from differences in services offered to differences in populations covered to whether the school is open all year or not—and little basis for estimating the latter. Whatever the correct figure, it is orders of magnitude larger than funding for such programs currently. As with after-school programs, it is important to remember that there is a considerable return on every dollar spent on extending the school day, in decreased costs in child care, crime prevention, welfare, job loss, and so forth.10

Finally, there is no reason why the necessary funding would have to be provided by the federal government alone. One possibility currently being considered for funding universal preschool is a program to match federal contributions with state dollars. The same mechanism could conceivably be used to fund all-day schools.


The National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE),, has extensive information on year-round education and descriptions of data collected on achievement levels in year-round schools. They also have a description of the various kinds of year-round schedules in use.

The National Education Association website.

The U.S. Department of Education website,

Education Week has a guide to the issue and citations for studies of the effects of year round schooling.

Written by Ruy Teixeira, Senior Fellow, and Catherine Bloniarz, Former Program Assistant at the Century Foundation. Updated by Thad Hall and Alex Baker.

1 Alan Krueger, “Reassessing the View that American Schools Are Broken,” Working Paper #395, Industrial Relations Section, Princeton University, January 16, 1998.

2 Rosalind Chait Barnett and Caryl Rivers, “Out-of-Sync Work Shifts, Out-of-Sync Families; Child Care Is a Pressing Need for Those with Odd Work Hours” Los Angeles Times, September 2, 2002.

3 Gruber, K. J., Wiley, S. D., Broughman, S. P., Strizek, G. A., and Burian-Fitzgerald, M., “Schools and Staffing Survey, 1999–2000: Overview of the Data for Public, Private, Public Charter, and Bureau of Indian Affairs Elementary and Secondary Schools,” National Center for Education Statistics, NCES 2002–313, 2002.

4 U.S. Department of Education, “Safe and Smart: Making After-School Hours Work for Kids,” Washington, D.C., June 1998.

5 National Association for Year-Round Education, 2003,

6 Note that some advocates of all year schooling do call for an increase in the number of school days as well.

7 Some other schedules that the National Association for Year-Round Education advocates:

• 60-20, where there are 60 days of school followed by 20 days of vacation
• 60-15, with a three- or four-week vacation shared by all students and teachers in the summer
• Quarter plan, where there are summer, fall, winter, and spring semesters, and students are required to attend three out of four. Each quarter is a self-contained unit of instruction.

8 SERVE, “How Class Size Makes a Difference,” 2002.

9 “German Government Wants to Increase Availability of All-Day Schools,” Die Bundesregierung, January 9, 2002.

10 Brown, W., Frates, S., Rudge, I., and Tradewell, R. “The Costs and Benefits of After School Programs: The Estimated Effects of the After School Education and Safety Program Act of 2002,” Claremont McKenna College, Rose Institute of State and Local Government, 2002.