Students returning from fall break don’t feel rested. Most are already asking how many weeks they have until Thanksgiving Break.
A four-day weekend isn’t enough time to decompress — and forget about enjoying quality time with family or catching up with school work. Rushed breaks are a stress in themselves.
Schools need to break from the calendar with long summer vacations, so that students have more frequent, shorter breaks that will provide stress-free rest and improve education.
An urban legend says summer vacation comes from the agrarian calendar, so that students could help on the family farm. But the majority of farm work occurs during planting and harvesting, which happen when school is in session. Farmers didn’t take the summer off, but their workload was slightly reduced. Schools in farming communities often have their longest breaks during the spring and fall, but they continue during the summer.
Summer vacation truly began in the city in the late 1800s. It started because upper-middle-class families went on vacations, unlike the vacations we take today, to escape the blistering heat of summer and the air-conditioner-free classrooms that made the weather even less bearable. For many in the 19th and 20th century, vacations meant moving to a cooler climate for the entire summer.
In the United States this led to the 10-week, or longer, summer vacation. American students have the longest summer breaks in the developed world. European countries take about six to eight weeks for summer vacation.
Some say students need summer break so they can vacation with their families, as families did 100 years ago. But very few families need, or want, 10 weeks together.
A six-week summer break would allow families to go on vacation (although I’ve never met a family that spends more than two weeks away from home). It would also prevent the wasteful side-effects of summer break.
Low-income students lose, on average, two months of reading comprehension skills and one month of math skills over the traditional summer vacation, according to a Johns Hopkins study. Their middle-class counterparts, by comparison, make small gains. By the time low-income children graduate elementary school, they have lost up to two years of education.
Teachers have to devote their precious time to reteaching because of summer learning loss, too. According to the National Summer Learning Association, 90 percent of teachers spend between three and six weeks reteaching material forgotten over summer break.
A year-round school calendar, in which schools run for four weeks, then take a week or two off, would have students constantly working toward a meaningful, relaxing break. It would also mitigate the nasty side-effects of summer vacation: knowledge loss, couchlock, and worst of all — boredom.
Parents would get some relief, as well. For households with only one parent or two working parents, finding someone to watch children for 10 weeks straight is stressful and expensive. But getting a nanny for a week or two, or simply taking time off work, may be more manageable.
Within this framework, schools could still afford longer breaks for summer, Christmas, and Easter. Most states require students to attend class for 36 weeks in a year. With a six-week summer break, schools would have 10 weeks of vacation to spread throughout the year.
Summer vacation is useful for high-school and college students who want to take full-time jobs and internships. But changing the school calendar wouldn’t take away those opportunities. With a year-round school year, businesses could still hire during the shorter summer break. Alternatively, students could stay with companies all year but work only during their monthly breaks.
Parents, students, and teachers could benefit from a year-round school calendar.
Educators could save precious times in the classroom and with that time explore more in-depth material.
Students could escape the boredom of long summers, while having more opportunities to rest throughout the year.
Parents could more easily prepare for a year-round school schedule, as summer would no longer be a life-altering event.
It’s time to leave behind tradition and follow the science.