It’s Time to Have More School, Less Summer Holiday

Bored GirlWe’re already four weeks into summer vacation and my children are off with their Mom on the annual few weeks at her family’s house at the Lake of the Ozarks. A few weeks where I am suddenly a bachelor and, as always, it’s a mixed bag of freedom and missing my minions.

It’s also a time for me to be able to think about how our lives are going, how they’re doing on their individual journeys towards adulthood and to generally assess the state of our nation and the world they’re heading towards.

And, as I have for many years, I am struck with how darn long summer vacation ends up being.

Let me state that differently: Summer vacation is too darn long.

These three month summer vacations are a pain for parents and a bit of a disaster for our children. American children have the least schooling annually of any of the industrialized nations and it’s really affecting our long term economic prospects, not to mention their ability to succeed in an increasingly global future.

Some data: There are 260 week days in a year. In England, 192 of those days are spent in school (that’s 73%), in Israel 216 of those days are spent in school (83%) and Japan’s at the top of the heap with 243 school days (93%, but that’s not quite right because Japanese children attend half-days of school on Saturdays).

In the USA? We’re at the bottom of all industrialized nations with a mere 180 school days annually (69%).

Look at those numbers differently and it means American school children spend 180 days in school and 185 days at home each year. Yup, they spend less days at school than they do on holiday. Bet you never realized that, did you?

We wonder why our economic future isn’t looking great and why it’s not uncommon for young adults to come to America from other countries and get jobs as scientists, researchers, engineers over locally grown talent?  In 12 years of schooling an additional 20-30 days/year can add up to an entire additional year of schooling, a spare “13th grade”, and that can make quite a difference in overall academic achievement.

There’s another side to this argument too: summer break puts a tremendous burden on parents, either to find thing for their children to do or to pay for summer camps and other activities to keep the children occupied. Clearly three months of laying around, watching TV, playing video games and getting into mischief might sound like nirvana to our children — though most are bored after a week or two — but it’s a huge pain for parents who are stuck footing expensive camp bills, hosting other children on extended sleepovers or going on long trips. A month? Okay. Two months? Maybe. But three months? It’s just too long.

But wait, there’s more to the issue. The mythos around summer vacation is that it was due to rural school schedules and that the children would be helping on the farm in earlier, agrarian times. That might be a sweet vision of nostalgia, but it’s incorrect: The reason summer gets the big school break is due to more mundane urban reality: In the summer it’s hot and humid, and prior to widespread air conditioning, classrooms were beastly for children and a health hazard. A reason that, of course, is now moot.

Talk to teachers about the weeks they waste when school does finally start up again, the weeks of reviewing subjects and reminding students who still have their heads in the clouds about what they learned the previous year. It’s a sure bet that whatever’s covered in the last month or so of school will have to again be covered in the first 3-4 weeks of the next year after such a long break, so really that 180 days of school reduces further, to 159 actual teaching days. Out of 365. That’s not much, is it?

I’ve written previously about how us parents secretly hate summer vacation, but didn’t get into the academic side of the issue, because it’s a pretty grim picture. Our kids deserve a brighter future, a better chance to be among the smartest, most well-educated and ultimately most successful young adults of the future, the people creating our future. And our current school schedule isn’t offering that.

It’s time to change. Summer vacation is too long and the school year is woefully too short.

6 comments on “It’s Time to Have More School, Less Summer Holiday

    • The quality is an issue, but it could easily be solved by moving learning outside the classroom. our scholastic methodology is to teach within roughly the same confines that we used to subjugate the Native Americans with church schools in the 1800s, the same structures we used to get young hooligans off the streets in the early 1900s when education first became mandatory, and within the same environments that have been propagating a narrow and overbroad educational system that doesn’t adjust for different needs and learning styles. If our schools adjusted to a more active learning curriculum, not only could we adjust for a great deal of our educational needs, but we could make scholastic learning more entertaining and therefore more effective at reaching our kids. As a camp counselor and ski instructor, I take every opportunity to take these “leisure” times and turn them into opportunities to teach physics, science and philosophy. It’s not perfect, but it’s what I can do to help revolutionize our marginalized youth.

  1. Having attended school in the US and Canada, there is a clear difference in the quality of education available.

    My kids attend a magnet school that is focused on academics and they would get started right at first bell vs. waiting for second bell. The teachers thought this would be a good idea because it essentially adds up to be a few days of additional study over the course of a year.

    I have to agree with Dave. With 3 kids, I can see that if we don’t work with the kids during their summer break on keeping their skills sharp, guess what? Their skills start to dull. Unfortunately, I don’t think most parents have the time to work with their kids during the summer. It’s not like they get a Summer break from work! This means that when students go back to school they have to catch up on the knowledge they lost while on break. It’s 2 steps forward and 1 step back.

    Now let’s talk about quality. There’s really no upside to being a teacher except that they do something great for others. Compensation is below par, therefore, those who are talented will most likely go to the private sector because they will be paid more.

    In Canada, the teachers were great. Their average salary was around $74,000. Conversely, the average salary of a teacher in the US is around $42,000. Additionally, I found the teachers in the US to be more constrained by regulation than the teachers in Canada. In Canada, the teachers had freedom to teach and inspire their students. It seems that the pride of teaching has been lost in the US. This will ultimately trickle down to our children and affect the future of our Country.

    Just my 2 cents…

  2. I’ve been on this toot since the 60s. I would have willingly spent another 75-100 in school growing up.

  3. 3 months is long! Breaks certainly have their positives but those who dont fill it w/rich and meaningful experiences are really missing out.

  4. As a teacher, I’m torn. Truth is it would be easier/better for everyone if the summer break was shorter. Don’t get me wrong, I personally need the break over the summer- otherwise I might have already burned out. I probably log 50 hours per week at school not counting coaching, clubs, grading, or planning.
    Shorter break means kids remember more and advance in skills a bit faster. We probably spend the first 4 weeks getting reacquainted with school. There is never enough time…lol.
    How do you all feel about a balanced schedule? I wonder if that causes more strain on the family, but I think it is better for kids. I think this is a great conversation to have…

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