Students and teachers across the country look forward to the same thing every year — summer vacation, the two- to three-month break after the end of each school year. The average school year is 180 days, leaving the rest of the year for students to languish and, some think, to forget what they learned throughout the school year. Why do we have summer vacations, and should we consider changing them in the future?
Why Do We Have Summer Vacation?
Summertime is synonymous with warm weather and trips to the beach, but in the 1800s and early 1900s, school breaks didn’t have anything to do with vacation and had everything to do with the rising temperatures. Air conditioners didn’t become standard until the mid-1960s, so cities and school buildings were often sweltering during the warm summer months.
In hot climate areas like Florida or Arizona, staying inside could actually become dangerous as temperatures climbed, so hot summer months were often spent outside. The rich could retreat to the cooler coastal cities, but everyone else was left to sweat at home. As air conditioners became more common, the practical need for summer vacations diminished, but the vacations themselves remained.
The Summer Slide
One of the main arguments against the standard summer vacation is the so-called “summer slide” — the tendency of students to forget what they’ve learned over the long summer months. Much of the beginning of the new school year is spent reminding students of the things they learned in the previous year before approaching new topics.
Some research has estimated re-teaching students at the beginning of the year can cost upwards of $1,500 per student every single year, or more than $18,000 over the course of the student’s school career.
Year-round schooling has been proposed as a solution to the standard summer vacation, and one school district in Virginia has been using a year-round schedule for more than a decade. Instead of a long school year and a large summer vacation, the students have a six-week summer vacation, four one-week breaks throughout the year and the standard holiday and spring breaks.
A study completed in 2012 found students on a year-round schedule increased their standardized test scores at a faster rate than schools on a traditional schedule.
Beyond Elementary Education
Primary school students aren’t the only ones who suffer from the summer slide — college students often fall into the same trap. Dorms close over the summer months, meaning students are spending their vacation carting all their belongings home and then back again at the beginning of the year. It also interferes with students who have part-time jobs or internships that continue throughout the summer.
Most colleges are very set in their semester scheduling, but there are other solutions to that problem — providing year-round affordable student housing allows these students to continue their studies, their work or their internships without interruption.
A year-round school schedule might not be the perfect solution to all school-related problems, but it can help prevent students from forgetting the things they’ve learned in the previous year. Year-round schedules can also make life a little bit easier for working parents — there’s no need to find as much childcare when kids are in school most of the year with short breaks in between.
If the goal is to increase test scores, school districts across the country could benefit from changing their schedule around a little bit, shortening summer vacation in favor of a more even spread of school days.