Summer break from school is as American as apple pie. But educators, parents and social scientists continue to debate: Is it really necessary? Or is it, in fact, detrimental to students’ learning?
The idea of year-round school began to gain momentum in the 1970s, and now the debate has reached the mainstream. There are many components to the arguments for and against year-round school: family scheduling, opportunities for play and recreation, and use of physical school buildings, to name a few. But one question is central to the discussion: Does year-round school provide a better education?
What Is “Year-Round” School?
Year-round school does not mean students are in school 365 days a year. The average American student currently spends 180 days in school, according to Education Commission of the States. Switching to a year-round schedule would not significantly increase the number of days in attendance, but rather spread instructional days out across the entire year. That might mean students attend school for 45 days, followed by a 15-day break (the 45-15 plan). Other schedule patterns discussed are 90-30 or 60-20.
Pros of Year-Round School
Advocates for year-round schooling posit that the summer break, part of American school tradition since the beginning of formal education, is outdated now that children are not expected to work on the family farm during warmer months.
In addition, they argue that attending school year round would help children retain what they learn, rather than forget it over the summer. Critics of summer break say teachers waste valuable time reteaching last year’s skills at the beginning of the year.
Educational research supports the claim that disadvantaged students especially tend to experience “summer learning loss,” or a cumulative loss of skills. This is especially true in the areas of reading and language. According to the nonprofit National Summer Learning Association, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading skills over the summer, as they typically do not have access to the same quality summer camps and educational programs available to higher-income students who may even make small academic gains during the break.
Low-income students face additional summertime challenges, including accessing nutritious food. Feeding America notes that 22 million children receive free or reduced-cost lunches during the school year, but just 3.76 million, or 17% percent, access summer meals through the USDA Summer Food Service Program. That leaves many students vulnerable to food insecurity and nutritional setbacks during the summer.
Cons of Year-Round School
Critics of year-round schooling cite the logistical problems it poses. Families with one child in year-round school and another in traditional school would find it difficult to plan vacations and events. School athletics would be more difficult to schedule if all schools are not on the same timetable. In addition, older students often look forward to having summer jobs.
Long summer breaks offer children unstructured time for independent play and exploration through participation in non-school activities.
Many school districts argue that maintaining buildings year round would be more expensive. In some areas, air conditioning facilities during hot summer months would be costly. Summer breaks also provide adequate time to conduct lengthy maintenance projects on school buildings.
But perhaps the strongest argument against year-round schooling, critics say, is that there is simply not enough evidence that learning outcomes improve when students attend school without an extended summer break. Because the majority of American schools do not operate on that schedule, critics maintain there is not enough research to prove that year-round school is beneficial either socially or academically.
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