The case against a long school vacation

From an editorial Friday in Bloomberg View:

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date,” Shakespeare wrote. Schoolchildren would no doubt agree -- but they’re mistaken. In America, summer vacation lasts far too long.

U.S. students spend about 180 days in school per year, with the vast majority receiving 10 to 12 weeks off in the summer. Regardless of their socioeconomic background, they’ll forget two months’ worth of math instruction from the previous year by the time they return to classes in September. Poorer students – who can’t afford summer enrichment classes and are less likely to have a parent at home during the day – also see their reading skills atrophy.

Those losses grow over time. A two-decade-long study of public-school students in Baltimore found that half of the achievement gap between high-income and disadvantaged ninth graders could be attributed to so-called summer learning loss during elementary school.

Contrary to popular belief, students in the U.S. spend as much time in the classroom, on an annual basis, as their peers in the rest of the world do. Schools in the U.K., Germany and France take off between six to eight weeks during the summer. In Singapore, the longest break lasts six weeks, from November to January.

U.S. schools should strive for something in between. About 3,000 schools – some 3 percent of all public schools in the U.S. – have ditched the extended summer hiatus in favor of “year-round” calendars that resemble the international approach. Schools are typically in session for 45 to 60 days, followed by two-week breaks, during which teachers provide voluntary tutoring and sessions. Summer vacation lasts four to six weeks.

Schoolchildren, like surfers, may long for an endless summer. Life doesn’t work that way. Better they find out sooner rather than later.