Increase Student Achievement With a Longer School Year
I once worked at a school in Los Angeles that was 99 percent low-income and ELL. Due to overcrowding in the district, the school developed a system with two eight-week breaks instead of a typical schedule. I witnessed first hand the amount of academic progress that is lost when students spend time out of school. My students, like many low-income children, did not have access to meaningful academic and enrichment experiences during break, which drastically affected their academic progress. Moreover, I believe in extending the school year and limiting the time students spend out of school.
Education reformers created the summer break in the 1840's to equalize the learning time in urban and rural schools, alleviate medical concerns, and ensure that students were not over-stimulated. With labor law reform and contemporary developments in technology, medicine, and agriculture, this once reasonable justification is now outdated. A decision made in large part to promote educational equality has now created an achievement gap between those who have access to academic and enrichment summer activities and those who do not.
Significantly shortening summer vacation would have a variety of upsides. First, all students would receive year-round learning experiences to support their social and academic growth. Second, there would be less pressure on teachers because students would maintain progress, and there would be more time to reach benchmarks. Third, schools would have added flexibility with scheduling. The extra time would allow for increased courses offered in the arts and physical education and leave considerably more time for professional development. Additionally, teachers could extend curriculum, provide increased individual support, and devote more time to units of study or concepts when needed.
This plan would certainly affect teacher recruitment and retention, be expensive, and anger a subset of parents. To make this work, education leaders would have to offer creative incentives and develop systems to support a longer school year. Overall, the potential for added curricular flexibility and higher achievement would increase job satisfaction. Additionally, if schools used the extra time to provide engaging academic and enrichment programming, many parents would support the idea. Charter schools across the country have already found success in extending the school year, particularly for students who struggle academically.
Ultimately, long summer vacation is costly for students who lack access to high-quality summer experiences. There are a variety of ways to creatively extend the school year and successfully adjust vacation times based on local context. It's truly painful for me to think about the lost progress students incur during the summer months. While I would certainly miss my summer break, I truly believe that the costs of the current system contradict the goal of teaching itself.
Brooke Peters, currently at Community Roots Charter School, has taught kindergarten and 1st grade in Los Angeles and New York City for 10 years. She is also co-founder of the Odyssey Initiative, a project aimed at discovering and documenting exemplary practices in U.S. schools.