Does Summer Break Help or Hurt Students?

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By Rachel Kelly, CEI Intern

Ed. Note: You know the routine. In the suburbs, parents, and particularly working moms, line up summer camps and classes. Parents with fewer resources do the best that they can to make sure children are supervised in the summer. Summer breaks, a mainstay of American education. Only a few weeks left until fall is here and school resumes. What will be your district’s plans for next summer?

Summer break has become part of America’s culture; families go on vacation, students relax, children go to summer camps, and teacher get a break (unless they get a summer job). However, there has been a debate in recent years about adopting a year-round schedule for schools. Many people argue that 3-month break for summer isn’t necessary and that is affects student learning.

History of Summer Vacation. In America, students tend to have 2-3 months of summer vacation. Why do students in America get such a long summer break? Historically, school in the summer was cancelled for one primary reason: the heat. Some of you may even remember schools before AC. Without air conditioning, many schools were unbearably hot in the summer.

So even with AC today, the majority of schools today still have the 180-day schedule. However, there are some schools that have adapted an extended school year. Does this the longer year make a difference?

PiedmontPiedmont Elementary School in Charleston, West Virginia. Piedmont has used a ‘balanced school schedule’ for over 20 years.

  • Instead of the tradition summer vacation, students get one month off in the summer, as well as two 3-week breaks in the autumn and spring.
  • Altogether, it still comes out to 180 days; it is just balanced differently.

In a documentary, PBS interviewed the principal of this school and the parents of children that attend it. Principal Beth Sturgill says that the schedule is beneficial for both students and teachers.

  • The longer breaks in the fall and spring help everyone feel less burnt out throughout the year. This is important for at-risk students who are more likely to drop out of school and often benefit from the review or the ‘catching up’ that happens in summer sessions.
  • Shorter summer breaks also mean there will be less reteaching needed at the beginning of the new school year, which helps provide more time for other important lessons and activities.

The parents also agree that the ‘balanced’ schedule benefits students. They noticed that the kids feel more refreshed and ready to attend school with the longer breaks throughout the year. It allows for more family time as well. If it suits their schedule better, families can plan to have their vacation in the fall or spring, rather than just in the summer. It also makes finding childcare options easier for parents that work full time. Childcare can be very expensive; having a child in a camp for 2 to 3 months can add up to a lot of money. On the contrary, finding an option for 2 to 3 weeks is less money and more convenient.

Reasons to Stay with Long Summer Breaks

flamingoDespite the advantages, there are some negative aspects of a school year that varies from the traditional schedule. In the PBS documentary, Professor Harris Cooper says that having a shorter break is not a definitive way to increase a student’s performance. The documentary also states that there has also been no evidence that the year-round schedule improves students’ standardized test scores. Of course, there could be other factoring affecting their test scores, and educators need to consider more than just these scores.

In West Virginia. PBS also interviewed Christine Campbell, a president of a teacher’s union in West Virginia, points out some other concerns with the ‘balanced’ approach. She explains that having a different schedule could interfere with students’ sports activities. If schools have different mandatory school days and breaks, it may be difficult for schools’ sport teams to compete with each other. Campbell says that sports are a critical part of students’ development, so this needs to be considered. She is also concerned about teachers with low salaries not being able to keep necessary second jobs.

The only concern that parents in West Virginia had with the extended school year was that it is available at elementary schools, but not in middle or high schools. This could make things complicated for families that have children in an elementary school with an extended schedule and an older child in a regularly scheduled middle or high school. Although, this problem could be fixed if every school were to adapt a ‘balanced’ school year.

Losing Summer Camps. Perhaps the most concerning thing of all, however, is the idea of losing summer camps. Here at the Center For Educational Improvement, we have written about innovative summer camps and other similar programs that offer students unique experiences as well as important benefits. If every school was to cut their summer break, it could hurt these programs. Fewer students may attend the camps, which could result in camps shutting down. This could be a great loss to children and their education.

References

Melker, Saskia & Weber, Sam (2014). Agrarian roots? Think again. Debunking the myth of summer vacation’s origins. PBS Newshour.
Reily, Lucas (2017). Why do students get the summer off? Mental Floss.

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