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Summer Break Doing More Harm Than Good?

By sandymaple |

As someone who eagerly anticipates the last day of school as much, if not more, than my child, the very thought that summer break might be an outdated idea makes me panic just a little bit.  Some of the happiest days of my childhood occurred between the months of June and September, and I want my own child to have those same experiences.

But according to Ron Fairchild, CEO of the non-profit National Summer Learning Association, those carefree days of summer are wreaking havoc on the education of poor and disadvantaged students. Unlike their wealthier peers, who may spend the summer enriching their lives through camps, vacations, and trips to museums and libraries, many underprivileged kids are doing absolutely nothing beyond watching television and hanging out on the streets.

As evidence of the impact of the so-called “summer slide” on underprivileged students, experts point to a 2007 study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University that tracked the summer learning loss of students from grammar school to ninth grade.  While all students — economically disadvantaged or not — learned at about the same rate during the school year, the wealthier kids held steady and even advanced during the summer break. But the disadvantaged students quickly lost ground and by the end of grammar school were nearly three grade levels behind. By the end of ninth grade, about two-thirds of the gap could be attributed to summer learning loss.

And while organizations like Fairchild’s, which aims to provide summer enrichment programs for low-income students, have cropped up all over the country, there are still millions of children who are not being served.

The answer, of course, lies in doing away with the long summer break altogether. It’s an idea that education reformers have kicked around for years and that some schools are already putting into practice.

As much as it pains me to say so, it really might be time to say goodbye to the long summer break.  And while I would certainly lament the loss of all that unscheduled free time, year-round school would be a lot easier to take if some other changes occurred at the same time. Namely, more time spent outdoors during the school day. As it stands now, my child is lucky to get 15 minutes of fresh air during a typical six-hour school day. And that’s not enough. Research has shown that recess is linked to academic success, so if summer vacation is going away, then recess needs to come back.

Image: cdsessums/Flickr

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0 thoughts on “Summer Break Doing More Harm Than Good?

  1. Linda says:

    I don’t know. I don’t see why kids and I should lose our summer together just because some parents won’t do better for their kids than having them watch TV all day.

  2. Gretchen Powers says:

    So have camps and stuff for the underprivileged kids, maybe even programs that educate their parents, since that seems to be an issue. I don’t advocate moving toward the lowest common denominator, and we already can’t seem to manage public school budgets, how will they work the whole year through?

  3. [...] Summer Break Doing More Harm Than Good? [...]

  4. goddess says:

    I agree Linda. Take my kids’ summer vacations away and I will just homeschool them instead- they school system can lose their 10K of funding for each of them.

  5. Sara says:

    They need to have a two month break which includes a one and a half month required summer school for those that aren’t on grade level. Done correctly the summer can provide opportunities for kids that are behind to catch up.

  6. Linda says:

    Wow. “Never” was over pretty darn quickly.

  7. Snarky Mama says:

    Our school district offers day camps throughout the city. Not every school has them, I’d estimate it’s probably every fifth school offers free/very low cost camps for any child in the district. The more expensive classes cost about $25 for M-F 8:30-3ish, but meals are included (school food, but hey, better than nothing. We actually get some decent food options, too.)

    It interesting, because I often hear how miserable our school district is, and I know the schools here get a lot less than the 10K/kid goddess mentioned (think $2,400/kid).

  8. Linda says:

    My husband was unemployed for almost 2 years and is now underemployed. One thing I’ve learned from the experience, is if your income is low, you can get a scholarship for almost anything, if you apply.

  9. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    With all the vacation time that is built into the school year, I wonder where this resistance stems from. My mom would assign us book to read and report on, she had math workbooks and we would have to do a summer project. I was raised believing that learning was something we did year round, so I don’t get holding on to an idea that summer is so precious a time that it can’t be given up for learning. What are other countries doing in that regard?

  10. Gretchen Powers says:

    School is really not the only place many children learn. That is for sure. Nor is structured learning, in terms of specific projects, worksheets, reporting back on things, etc., the only way they learn.

  11. Gretchen Powers says:

    That said, as someone who will someday likely be a “working parent” (outside the home) I can see how it would be smoother to have year round school with maybe more 1-2 week breaks. Where we live it’s too damn hot in the summer anyway. I’d rather have the awesome family time break in April or October! There’s no easy answer…

  12. JBoogie says:

    Most places that have year-round schools go about 5-6 weeks then have 2 weeks off. I’d like it as a high school teacher because I usually spend the first two weeks of school reviewing what they are already supposed to know. Very annoying.

  13. Linda says:

    My kids read a ton during the summer and my daughter is having some math tutoring, so it’s not that I think they shouldn’t be learning things. I also take the kids on outings every week: the zoo or science center or water park or children’s museum. Each of my older two just got back from a week of camp and next week the kids and I are going to Camp Fire day camp (DD and I are volunteers and the boys are campers.) The older kids have swim team every morning and a swim meet once a week. At the end of the summer, the older kids are flying to AZ to see their grandparents for a week. And all three kids are doing karate twice a week and other thing at the YMCA, Clearly, we’re really busy, but we’re doing things we can do together and things there isn’t time for during the school year. Our disctrict only gives the kids 9 weeks off for summer break. I think my kids get a lot out of theri summer vacation and I think it would completely stink to lose that time because other people let their kids watch telelvision all day and never pick up a book. If we ever went to a year round system with only TWO WEEKS off at a time, I’d home school. I don’t think NINE WEEKS is enough.

  14. Voice of Reason says:

    Completely off-topic, but Mistress_Scorpio (if you are reading this) I sure would love to know when your baby arrives! Same with Plumb Lucky!

  15. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    @VOR: I just hope I don’t go into labor this week. There’s a big event of apparent national importance going on that might hinder my trip to the hospital. Some stoopid wedding…

  16. Voice of Reason says:

    LOL! Good luck – hope Bridezilla doesn’t hinder your baby’s plans! (KIDDING!)

  17. Leigh says:

    Wow! Do you realize how over-privileged and elitist some of you sound? If you have never had money, if everyone around you is unemployed or works 3 jobs and still needs public assistance, do you think you can just go on the Internet and research scholarships for summer camps? How many of these children do you think even have supervision during the summer? How many of the disadvantaged children in the study discussed do you think eat three meals a day?

    It makes me sad to hear parents threaten to leave the public system because they don’t want their child to have to suffer the fate of the lowest common denominator. If your privileged and intelligent children stay in the system, both your children and tax dollars will improve the system. My town has a HUGE number of private schools, some charging $18K for kindergarten. Imagine what that money could buy if those parents were willing to give even part of that sum to their neighborhood school. Imagine what those kids could contribute to their peers who can’t afford such an education.

    I won’t even go into what I think you may be teaching your child by isolating them from disadvantaged children. Of course you want the best for your child, but there is a real world out there they should know about too.

    Year round schools would provide huge benefits to all children. It would allow time to add back phy ed, band, art, and foreign languages. It would reduce the learning gap so disadvantaged children would not keep losing ground. More children will get to eat almost everyday. It would also teach children what it is like to go to work every day, every year. What is an education for if not to teach children what they will need to know to join the workforce and be a productive member of society?

    We are no longer an agrarian society which required summers off (there are exceptions I’m sure and they can keep their 9 month school calendar). At least in urban areas where most children are being trained to go to work in concrete and steel towers, year round schools are a great idea.

  18. JEssica says:

    Uhh…last I heard they wanted to cut down school time due to funding problems. Cutting summer vacation will only require more funding. I don’t see this happening anytime soon.

  19. Gretchen Powers says:

    Leigh…do you realize how obnoxious *you* sound? “What is an education for if not to teach children what they will need to know to join the workforce and be a productive member of society?…most children are being trained to go to work in concrete and steel towers…” yep, that’s a big part of the problem right there. Education should be about alot more than that, and good people (no matter how much money they have) do this partially for their children AT HOME.

  20. ChiLaura says:

    I suppose one’s not allowed to suggest doing year-round in undeprivileged areas and letting wealthier ones maintain their summer vacay? Is that too classist, or something else verboten? Different areas and families have different needs, so why shouldn’t schools be allowed to tailor their program to their students’ needs?

    Leigh, letting our kids know that some kids don’t have what our family has, and sacrificing their needs to the lowest common denominator are two different things. Just because some kids don’t have enough to eat, does that mean that I should withhold meals from my children? I will teach my children to be compassionate, to share, to be charitable, but their well-being is my responsibility, and I’m not about to disadvantage them just because life’s not fair to someone else.

  21. LooLoo'sMommy says:

    I think it has everything to do with the parents and nothing to do with the school system. My family and I are far from wealthy but I make sure my child has every advantage she can. I know what it like to be an underprivileged kid who is watching tv all summer and eating peanut butter and jelly for every meal. But I make sure that is not my daughters fate. We go to the library at least once a week, there are plenty of community programs I have enrolled her for which are free or almost free and I have traded office work, errand or whatever is needed in return for music, dance, and gymnastics classes for her. I wanted her to learn a second language so I learned it and taught her myself. I didn’t care if it meant studying mandarin every break or opportunity I got I did it because it was the only feasible way. If you want you child to get every advantage they can you just have to do everything in your power to get it for them. My daughter is attending a very expensive private Kindergarten next year, we applied for every scholarship, financial aid and opportunity possible and made it work. Anyone can do it.

  22. Becca says:

    Not having a 3 month long summer vaca doesn’t mean you don’t get a summer break or you go to school more. Many schools do year round school. With a 1 or 2 week long breaks through out the year which leads to less stress for kids and teachers and even parents

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