News Columns & Blogs

Pro-con: Should schools be year-round?

Most industrialized nations have longer school years than we do, and there is fairly strong evidence that more time in school means higher standardized test scores. The long summer break doesn't even pretend to have a rational basis in educational policy. It's a response to inadequate farming schedules, the mid-20th century's lack of air conditioning, the mid-20th century's fear of summertime disease transmission, and the no-doubt timeless desire to mimic the summertime vacation habits of the rich. One issue that doesn't come up enough in discussions of extending the school year is that doing so is an issue of economic fairness. Wealthy parents can afford to give their children all sorts of edifying summer experiences that downscale parents cannot. As researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found, educational advancement across classes tends to be fairly even during the school year. But downscale students actually decline in educational achievement over the course of the summer, while upscale students remain relatively stable. — Conor Clarke,

There's more to life, and especially more to childhood, than test score achievement. I wouldn't trade the summers of my youth for a better competitive edge today against the average Japanese worker. Kids in the worst schools aren't going to benefit much by being cooped up there through the summer months. Of course, some kids would benefit. I haven't any objection if they choose to attend summer school. When I have kids, however, summer is going to be a lovely reverie when I get to enjoy their company more than I do during the school year. Do I place a higher value on the math scores of my children, or the relationships they cultivate with their family and friends? The latter. Kids already spend enough time within a public education system that teaches conformity and deadens love of learning. — Conor Friedersdorf,