Wednesday, December 2, 2020

On year-round schooling’s impact on summer


Kenny Brown, publisher of the Northwest Voice in Windsor Mill, Maryland, says he’s been talking to his daughter and to other parents, trying to figure out why kids aren’t in school during the 10 weeks of summer vacation.

Summer on the lawn at the Brevard Music Festival (camp), North Carolina (Brevard/media kit)

“School is not only a place of learning,” he writes. “It is a social outlet. Students enjoy a second family of friends and even some teachers there; it’s a home away from home.”

As a result, he says schools should teach year-round, with two- or three-week breaks in between quarters of the year, leaving the 180-day calendar in tact, just spread out over the entire year.

I think that when it comes to educating our students, the positives outweigh the negatives in many ways. So, I think I’m sold on the idea that the time is now for year-round students. We know people will have to make adjustments and we know many people resist change. The question is, What’s best for students?

I agree wholeheartedly with the question. The problem is, students are diverse and what’s best for one student is definitely not what’s best for another.

He suggests that our current school calendars, which begin a school year around the end of August and continue through the beginning of June, have outlived their usefulness. They were put in place in order to accommodate an agrarian economy in which kids were part of the labor pool and worked during the summer to help harvest crops.

A few warnings come up in his commentary:

  • Unattended kids might get into mischief
  • Teachers can use a break after a school year
  • A rotating 2-week break might put a strain on parents’ time off
  • Businesses that rely on summer vacation income would push back

But if such a year-round plan were put in place, he says benefits would multiply. For one thing, many low-income students rely on schools to access the Internet, since they don’t have Internet access in their homes. Just a note here: Public libraries also provide Internet access.

Second, the well-documented “brain drain” that occurs over the summer, where kids forget a large portion of what they learned during the year and next year’s teacher has to spend a month or longer making up for it, could be avoided. Another note: Although brain drain is real, focusing on ways we can eliminate it by changing the school calendar puts too much weight on what our schools need to do and not enough on what other players in our communities need to do.

“It’s been said that it takes 30 to 45 days after a student returns to school to relearn before starting on new information. Isn’t that a waste?” he wonders.

It depends on what the word waste means. Kids who go off to summer camp, admittedly because their families have the means to send them to summer camp, may forget the school subjects they learned for a part of the year, but their time at summer camp can’t be considered a waste. Kids who attend a music performance camp, such as the Brevard Music Camp in North Carolina or Interlochen in Michigan, leave extremely enriched from the experience.

For kids who spend their summers watching TV, yes, I suppose it’s a waste, but requiring kids to forego summer activities that enrich the lives of so many young people in our communities would be a sin.

He adds: “Something else to think about would be the students who work summer jobs. It would be nice to have statistics on how many jobs are really available for teenagers.”

We happen to have those statistics for you:

Fox Business reported on a survey of 15 US cities released in February, showing that demand for summer employment remains higher than the number of available jobs. That is, more kids want jobs than there are jobs available during the summer months.

Only about 38 percent of teens and young adults looking for summer jobs were able to find work through 18 summer employment programs in the 15 cities surveyed over the last two years, the network reported.

The findings were part of a report titled “Expanding Economic Opportunity for Youth through Summer Jobs,” compiled by JPMorgan Chase. The report “highlights the importance of summer employment opportunities for teens and young adults and the benefits they provide, including workforce readiness, skills development and higher graduation rates.”

The report, which is based on a survey of Summer Youth Employment Programs that are supported by JPMorgan, also showed that the summer employment rate for teens across the US has fallen to 34 percent, a near-record low and a 20 percentage point drop since 1995.

So it seems teens find things to do with their summers besides working at jobs. That doesn’t nullify the need many teens have, I know, for supplementing their families’ income by working as much as they can during the summer. Both these facts—the decreasing rate of employment and the increased need some teens have to step up employment at certain times of the year—tend to support, though, the position that summer should be free of mandatory schooling.

The Indiana Post-Tribune writes that kids who earned a 3, 4, or 5 on an Advanced Placement test—often more than one—fill their summers with something other than books. “Mark played football and played the trumpet. The kids who played in the band, they did band all summer,” the paper quoted an AP instructor at Lake Central High School as saying. “Nathan played soccer and Kyle was an athlete. A bunch of students were runners, played soccer and were in the band.”

He added that he has seen an increase in the number of students who attend academic camps over the summer and become enriched by the experience outside the traditional school classroom.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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