Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Teacher's Case For Summer Vacation.

Though, I've discussed the issue with - and mis-conceptions about - summer vacation before, recently published my piece about "Education Reformer New Craze: A War on Summer Vacation." As education critics and reformers look for new ways to chip away at public education, the summer break is an easy target because of the "summer slide," or regression in learning while away from school. However, the "solution" of a longer school year is just more of the myopic, narrow-minded focus of a one-size-fits-all education system.

A few points to consider:

Our school calendar is based on the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working in the fields today.” This is fundamentally not true. Summer vacation is not a leftover relic of America’s agrarian past, and it is not a result of our farming history or an “agrarian calendar” that released kids in the summer to work in the fields.  In fact, the opposite is more likely true, as American students in the 19th century were generally in school during the summer, but often took breaks in the spring and fall.

 Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have perpetuated the argument that the American “school day, week, and year” are too short. Their agenda for more school is based on the erroneous idea that Asian and European kids who beat American kids on international tests, such as the PISA exam, succeed because they spend more time in school.  Yet, like the myth of our “agrarian school calendar,” the persistent belief that other countries’ students spend more time in school is also not true.

The reality is that not all learning, or even the best learning, happens in the classroom. Many Americans know the irreplaceable value of summer camp and summer athletics. Summer is, or can be, filled with organized activities that provide opportunities for teamwork and leadership and creativity and problem solving and simple cultural enrichment. While the benefits of such activities are not instantly recognizable on a standardized test, they are the foundation for the type of social-emotional development that is every bit as significant in children becoming successful adults. Beyond that, the simple benefits of free play are the best part of summer vacation – and they contribute to making kids into better students as well as happier people overall.

However, many others are actually well-served by the numerous summer activities that enhance and add to their education as well-rounded citizens in ways that more classroom time drilling for standardized tests doesn’t. Many American high schools have large numbers of students taking Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Concurrent Enrollment college classes while still in high school. These students earn college credit while in high school, and do so with the current 180-day schedule and a lengthy summer vacation. If anything, many students can get through K-12 effectively in less time, not more

Ultimately, summer vacation is not "the problem" with public education. And shortening it or ending it is no panacea.

Free the children.

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