School’s Out for Summer?

Whether or not to preserve summer vacation or move to a year-round school calendar is a debate that springs up from time to time in education circles, and apparently, that time has come around again.

As much as I love summertime, I do believe that during the span of my career, we will probably see a longer school year, whether that means adding an extra month (like July) or losing the summer altogether. One of the big barriers that you don’t see mentioned often is air conditioning; if we are going to keep buildings open in July and/or August, there are a lot of school districts that are going to have to invest in installing or upgrading their air conditioning. Here in the Baltimore region, it’s not uncommon for public schools to sometimes shut down in early June for heat index related reasons, similar to snow days, in districts where not every school is fully air conditioned. But I think with our increasingly warm global climate, that is probably a pressing concern anyway.

More importantly, I’m not sure how many students still benefit from having the entire summer off. Summer learning loss has been documented over and over, and contributes to the achievement gap between lower- and upper-income students. All the working parents I know spend significant amounts of money on camps and summer programs that are enriching, but also expensive. Some kids lose access to nutritious meals that are provided free during the school year, and others get less exercise and practice with academic skills they spend all school year acquiring.

As for teachers, the summer break is often a perk people question if we deserve. I don’t think people realize how many of those summer programs and camps are staffed by teachers, earning extra money or often volunteering to do it for no pay! Not every district pays on a 12-month schedule, so many teachers use the summer as time for a second job. Teachers often use the summer to recharge and reflect, which can be difficult to do during the chaos of the school year, when teachers are often working many more hours than people realize. Summer is also an important time for sustained and excellent professional development, a vital tool in increasing and maintaining teacher quality that is difficult to accomplish during the year. Many teachers I’ve met over the years take graduate-level courses during the summer to make themselves better and more qualified teachers. All in all, I believe some kind of multi-week break will still be needed, to accomplish all of these goals for teachers in the profession. If we truly want to ask teachers to work more, of course, we are also going to have to pay and respect them more as professionals.

Should we extend our academic calendar? I think a shift is inevitable, but not without considering all the different angles and factors that such a shift would require. In the meantime, I’ll hang onto my precious summers and try to appreciate them even more.

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One thought on “School’s Out for Summer?

  1. Pingback: 2013 in Review | A Patchwork Life

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