Image by Tim Brown used with permission.

This year, summer break at eleven DC public schools started July 13th, one month later than public schools in the rest of the city. When most of DC returned to the classroom on August 21st, those schools already had a week under their belts.

First introduced at Raymond Education Campus for the 2015-16 school year, the extended school year program now includes ten other elementary and middle schools and adds 20 extra days of learning to the school calendar, bringing the total number of school days to 200.

The extra classroom time is both an effort to close the education gap and reduce learning lost over long summer breaks, also known as summer slide. Raymond, in fact, saw improvements in mathematics and language arts on their 2016 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) performance. It also gives teachers time to work with students in smaller groups, plan more field trips, and reduce the time spent in review at the beginning of each school year.

More than half of area charter schools have an extended school year, but extra classroom time is relatively new for traditional public schools in DC. The area public schools who have experimented with a longer school year say they are already seeing positive results.

The extended school year isn't just about eliminating summer slide and test scores, it gives teachers more time to do their job

One such school, H.D. Cooke Elementary, has two years under its belt. Principal Kathryn Larkin says, “It felt right because there was still so much to do” when the traditional year ended this summer, and they had a extra month of school.

It's not news that teachers often spend several weeks at the beginning of each school year reviewing material from the last school year. By having a shorter summer break, though, students lose less of the previous year's material before the start of school.

The extra twenty days in school isn't just an effective measure against forgetting math formulas or what stories you read the previous year. It also gives teachers a chance to use end of year data collected from general student performance, standardized test scores, attendance, suspensions, and expulsions while the students are still in session.

“Usually, it’s the end of the year,” Larkin says. “And the data comes in, you’re out of school and then you’re ready to start a new year.”

With the data in hand, Larkin says, teachers had an opportunity to go over it in smaller groups with students who were still there, and address any gaps that still existed prior to the end of the school year. Getting the data while the students were still in session also gave teachers a chance to look at their own practices, discern where they were and weren't successful, and make necessary changes for the upcoming year in real time.

Larkin also said she's excited to see how data from the beginning of the year matches up with data from the end of the year, and to see if they're starting the year where they left off. If the data matches up or is close, then they'll “be able to take their kids much further without playing catch-up.”

She stressed that in her eighteen years in education, this just doesn't happen with traditional year schools. Typically, the data comes in after everyone is out for summer break, and, before you know it, school has started again.

Looking forward, Larkin said the greatest thing about the program is that it's no longer new

In the beginning, there were uncertainties and some unanswered questions about the extended school year. For example, the calendar for traditional and extended year schools didn't match up, and if you were the parent of multiple children in each type of school, this presented a scheduling challenge.

There were also some questions about what would happen during the two intercession weeks (one in February and the other in April), which were designed for students who need intensive instruction in one subject or another. Teachers work one intercession week during the year, and get the other off. However, over the last two years these problems have been worked out and teachers, students, and parents now know what's expected of them.

“This is who we are and this is what we do,” Larkin says, summing up her thoughts on the extended year.

Of course, not all the questions have been answered. But Larkin and her teachers have worked out the basic mechanics and are moving forward to build off their successes.

What do you think? As a parent, would you prefer to have your children attend school longer throughout the summer? As a student?

Matthew Koehler is currently a stay at home dad who formerly worked as an ESL teacher in Nagano, Japan and Washington, DC. When not chasing his three-year-old daughter around, he chronicles he fathering experiences in blog form and is always on the look out for obscure beers. For the time being, he resides in the ever-changing Southwest neighborhood, just down the street from Nationals Ballpark.