Summer Break Doing More Harm Than Good?

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anticipates the last day of school as much, if not more, than my child, the very thought that summer break might be an outdated idea makes me panic just a little bit.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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