• Research, Theory, and Analysis

    For years now, this phrase has been the tagline for Ideas & Perspectives, our flagship publication. The phrase not only reflects the content of our advisory letter, but it resides at the core of Independent School Management’s raison d'être—supporting private-independent school leaders.


College Student Assessment Survey 2009

In 2009, ISM conducted an online survey of university and college professors, in a wide variety of schools across the U.S., to determine if and how they conduct end-of-term exams. They were also asked to comment on how upper schools could better prepare students for post-secondary success.

The 21st Century School: The School Calendar

In the 19th century, education in schools in the city was year-round (although it is unlikely that attendance was). At the beginning of the 20th century, the calendar moved to its present orientation—nine months on and three months off in the summer. For city dwellers, the change came about because summers were unbearably hot, disease was easily spread, wealthy people went on vacation, and too much education was considered bad for frail minds. The situation was different in rural areas where, in the 19th century, children went to school for only six months (summer and winter), leaving them free to help with the crops and animals in the spring and fall. For them, the schedule changed because the experts thought that children were not taught enough, and they wanted to come into line with changes happening in the city.

The 21st century has little in common with the attitudes and practices of either city or country communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. While work/social lives and personal/ professional lives have changed dramatically, the 21st century calendar has not changed much in either public or private education. So we now call on private-independent schools to meet the needs of the contemporary teacher, family, and student, and move to a year-round school calendar.

This is not a new concept and ISM doesn’t claim to have discovered it. Many schools and school districts around the country are using the full school year.1 It has not met with universal approval and many studies are inconclusive as to whether it impacts student test scores. Indeed, Web sites have been developed that are dedicated to maintaining the summer break (e.g., summermatters.com). Often, the rationale for year-round school has been to address overcrowding through multitracking; the results have been, over time, largely negative. An article in the Los Angeles Times reports that all districts in California will have phased out all year-round schools by 2012.2 The defenders of the status quo point to logistical issues, lack of conclusive evidence that there is real learning loss over the summer break, teacher and student fatigue, and failure of schools to demonstrate learning gains.

The most encouraging experiment in year-round schooling is represented by the Massachusetts Expanded Learning Time Schools. A major difference in this initiative is the stated intent to add 300 hours to student learning over the course of an academic year, an intent lacking from most other fiscally driven initiatives. This drive is in line with the initial research suggestion made by John Carroll in 1963, in A Model of School Learning.

An Argument for Year-Round Schooling

ISM’s support of the year-round schedule is much more closely attuned to the latter line of practice and research than to any of the other claims made for year-round schooling. We do not claim that it is more efficient per se, or that there is significant and problematic learning loss over the summer. We also do not support the status quo on the basis of maintaining summer camps. Our argument is threefold.

  1. Time matters. Time must be the variable and performance the constant, rather than the current reverse position—schools need more time to be able to meet the needs of all students.
  2. Teachers need:
    • – competitive compensation,
    • – a calendar that mitigates the stress of their profession, and
    • – time for continuous professional growth and renewal.
  3. Schools must be more flexible in order to meet the needs of today’s society.

We therefore provide the following paradigm for a year-round calendar that meets the criteria above. This is based on the real calendar year 2009–10. (See the example above.)

Intended Features
  • Assuming a 90-minute, rotating period daily for any given class, and a full class extending over three terms, this would provide 90 minutes times 35 (days per term) times 3 (terms) = 157.5 hours. This is 22.5 hours longer than the current “norm” (135 hours)—an increase of 17%.
  • With four 90-minute periods daily, students would have a maximum potential for eight courses over the year; a full-time student would take a minimum of five courses (15 periods).
  • Teachers would not teach more than three periods a term, providing plenty of time for professional growth and renewal, and collaboration;5 out of 24 periods (four per term for six terms), they would teach six courses (i.e., 18 periods).
  • Teachers would teach 11 out of 12 terms, i.e., within every two-year period, one term would be a sabbatical term.
  • Courses could run one, two, or three terms.

In conjunction with the recommendation from our earlier article for longer class periods, the year-round school also creates more time, which is good for every student’s performance. Faculty are able to teach more classes (six compared with a more typical load of four or five with a better balanced school year that mitigates stress. (See the sample below.) Richness of program is actually accentuated with this calendar, and flexibility of course offerings is also possible.3 Finally, this calendar better meets the needs of a mobile society with a variety of family forms and work/career demands that are as extreme as we have seen since the Second World War.4

  1. Visit the Web site of the National Association for Year-Round Education at www.nayre.org. See also “Despite Push, Year-Round Schools Get Mixed Grades,” September 10, 2009, CNN report, available online at www.cnn.com/2009/US/09/04/us.year.round.schools/index.html
  2. See “In Praise of Year-Round Schooling,” available online at latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-op-fleming25nov25,0,1634135.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions
  3. Note that beneficial results are not inevitable unless accompanied by attention to the criteria found in ISM’s RSM study, which is supported by much other research. See “New Research: The Relationship Between Faculty Professional Development and Student Performance,” I&P, 34-13-49; “The RSM International Model Schools Project: Final Outcomes,” 25-9-33.
  4. The percentage of women in the workforce who have children under age 18 has risen from 47% in 1975 to 71% in 2007. For more on our mobile society, see


College Preparation Checklist

Released November 2009. This checklist is a “to do“ list, starting with elementary school, to help students prepare academically and financially for education beyond high school. Each section is split into subsections for students and parents, explaining what to do and which publications or Web sites might be useful to them. The book is geared to help families receive federal student aid as needed.

America After 3PM: The Most In-Depth Study of How America's Children Spend Their Afternoons

Released October 2009. In 2004, the Afterschool Alliance and the JCPenney Afterschool Fund commissioned the most in-depth study ever to examine how America’s kids spend their after school hours – America After 3PM. Conducted by RTi, a market research firm, America After 3PM definitively answered questions such as: What are kids doing after school? How many kids are in afterschool programs? How many kids go home alone? What is the demand for afterschool programs? In spring 2009, the Afterschool Alliance and the JCPenney Afterschool Fund again worked with RTi to update the study to determine how things have changed since 2004. In total, nearly 30,000 households were surveyed for the 2009 update to America After 3PM. While there is good news to report, it is also clear that there is much more to be done to give all children and families access to quality afterschool programs.

US Performance Assessments

U.S. Performance Across International Assessments of Student Achievement

Released August 2009. This analysis (a special supplement to The Condition of Education 2009) examines the performance of U.S. students in reading, mathematics, and science compared with the performance of their peers in other countries that participated in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). It identifies which of these countries have outperformed the United States, in terms of students’ average scores and the percentage of students reaching internationally benchmarked performance levels, and which countries have done so consistently.


It's More Than Money: Making Performance-Based Compensation Work

Released July 2009. Published by the Center for American Progress, this report concerns implementing performance-based compensation in public school districts. Although the report is geared for public schools,much of the rationale and advice is applicable in private school settings. "The lesson of performance-based compensation is one of institutional change. A focus on student learning, and a teacher’s contribution to such learning, can be a significant catalyst for system-wide change."

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