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Association of Washington School Principals
Washington Principal | Volume 3 – 2021-22
Why Balance the 180-Day School Calendar Year?
Phyllis Bunker Frank
Balanced Calendar Steering Committee Member
Evaluation Criteria: Planning with Data, Aligning Curriculum, Improving Instruction, Engaging Families & Communities, Closing the Gap
The United States is the only industrialized nation where school districts annually plan an instructional calendar to disconnect from student learning for 10-12 weeks in the summer months. That calendar has determined how school families, including faculty and staff, have organized their lives for well over a century.

According to 2016 data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) website, 168 districts start school before Labor Day, and 119 start after. All districts likely schedule optional supplementary summer school learning dates that typically do not appear on the following year’s calendar, but are offered to vulnerable students primarily for catch-up/keep up. The traditional school calendar year has generated measurable, observable terminology like summer learning loss, summer slide, summer fade, education stagnation, and professional amnesia evidencing cumulative expansion from school entry to retention to graduation. Despite this entrenched traditional school calendar, there is ample evidence of readiness and need to transition from a deficit calendar to an instructional calendar year. The Balanced School Calendar Year presents continuous, upward spiraling PK-12 retention to graduation and preferred post-secondary choices for all students1.
The traditional school calendar year has generated measurable, observable terminology like summer learning loss, summer slide, summer fade, education stagnation, and professional amnesia evidencing cumulative expansion from school entry to retention to graduation.
Both traditional and balanced calendar practitioners rely on the same longitudinal research that first revealed lasting consequences of summer learning loss, but, more importantly, reflected similar growth charts when all students are expected to be in school. (2,3) The findings have served the traditional school year and expanded summer school and community offerings.
The balanced calendar spreads the required school attendance days (180) throughout the year by shortening the summer break from the traditional 10-12 weeks to 5-7 weeks and redistributing the remaining weeks around the year. Those remaining weeks are usually placed at the logical quarter or trimester endings to offer around-the-year intersession vacation, intervention, enrichment, and acceleration opportunities4. Some refer to the intersession opportunities as the “secret sauce” of a calendar that better balances work time and break time.
Sources: Doris Entwisle, Karl Alexander, and LInda Olson,
“Children, Schools, and Inequality,” 1997, Table 3.1
A growing amount of research (empirical, survey, case study, and repeated anecdotal data) shines a light on advantages associated with a balanced, around-the-year school calendar:
  • Reduces a design flaw (lengthy summer break) that interferes with learning and teaching after six weeks away from formal opportunities to learn5.
  • Reduces inefficiency – less review, re-teaching, and reminding, prompting continuous readiness to learn and engaging school setting behavior6.
  • Modernizes the school calendar to meet high expectations.
  • Provides timely supplemental learning/teaching opportunities, known as intersession, to recover and discover at a personalized rate and student learning style.
  • Promotes effectiveness – developmental learning: timely credit retrieval; continuous study in a preventative, wraparound, restorative framework.
  • Equitable – “levels the playing field” among students, thereby addressing issues of disproportionality by balancing the availability of technology, libraries, regular planned physical activity, and other resources for students and teachers
  • Recaptures dollars for building/district programming from reduced teacher absence, reduced student retention, and reduced vandalism.
  • Increases regular and reliable food service – nutrition feeds cognition.
  • Reduces social promotion and increases challenging course selection at middle and high school directed to graduation and post-secondary choice.
  • More closely models school to work – school experience and the teaching profession no longer trapped by and in a truncated calendar6.
  • Works with changes in family structure – increased flexibility for daycare and non-custodial connection time.
  • Offers the community visible full-year facility use.
If year round education were the traditional calendar, and had been for over 100 years, and if someone were to suggest a “new” calendar whereby students would be exempt from instruction for up to three months at a time, would the American public allow, or even consider such a scheme?
— Charles Ballinger, “Rethinking the School Calendar,” Educational Leadership, 45 (5), 1988, pp. 57
School and district authors and leaders who served in schools with balanced calendars report these professional advantages 1, 8.
  • The organization of instructional time allows teachers and administrators to be reflective practitioners because they can better plan at regular intervals during the academic year when needed most – timely and logical.
  • An enhanced climate of professionalism.
  • Due to the frequency of breaks in the year-round calendar, there is improved morale, motivation, and less burnout and stress.
  • Teachers absent less and stay in the profession longer; positive impact on educator health and substitute teacher shortage6.
  • Breaks allow for more deep cleaning of facilities than once or twice a year.
Historically, universal concerns and perceived disadvantages, packed with opinions and emotions, come up when students, parents, and educators explore a balanced calendar. But when concerns are taken seriously and addressed, and a district reaches a consensus to move to a balanced calendar model, the advantages for learning, teaching, planning, partnership, and play prevail and have a lasting effect6.
Debates about the school calendar year and the value of expanded opportunities to learn are not new. To help support those debates and discussions, OSPI leadership created a Balanced Calendar Initiative to support school districts, tribal compact schools, and public charter schools. The initiative offers planning grants to discuss the school calendar year in a profound, comprehensive, integrated way. Jon Mishra is the OSPI lead for the initiative.
In addition, OSPI has engaged K-12 association partners to support districts across the state interested in exploring modifying their school year calendars. Partners include the Association of Educational Service Districts (AESD), Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA), Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA), Washington Education Association (WEA), and the Association of Washington School Principals (AWSP).
The AESD serves as a project management partner and hosts an informational website. Visit the site to learn more or apply for a grant. Applications close on August 11, 2022. Contact Phyllis Bunker Frank, Balanced Calendar Steering Committee member, for more information about the balanced calendar option.
  1. Pedersen, James, Summer Versus School: the possibilities of the Year-Round School, Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. May 2016.
  2. Alexander, Karl, Doris Entwisle, and Linda S. Olson, “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap,” American Sociological Review, April 2007, pp.166-180.
  3. Alexander, Karl, Doris Entwisle, and Linda S, Olson, “School Achievement, and Inequality: A Seasonal Perspective.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Summer 2001, Vol. 23 No. 2pp 171-191, Also, Title 1 Monitor, August 2000, pp 12-15.
  4. Ballinger, Charles and Carolyn Kneese, School Calendaring Reform: Learning in All Seasons, Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. May 2006.
  5. Prisoners of Time, National Education Commission on Time and Learning, Original report 1994; Expanded and Updated by Crustal Springs Books, 2000.
  6. Stenvall, Marilyn, “Balancing the Calendar for Year-Round Learning,” Principal, 2001, pp 18-30.
  7. Haser, Shelly and Illham Nasser, Year-Round Education Change and Choice for Schools and Teachers, Scarecrow Education, Roman and Littlefield Publishing Group, 2005.
  8. Hornak, David, Superintendent Holt Public Schools, Holt, Michigan; Executive Director, revived National Association for Year-round Education; OSPI Balanced Calendar Initiative, lead consultant.