Thursday, July 25, 2013

Summer Vacation is Not Evil

The battle over the necessity - and potential downsides - of summer vacation will never end, just as the myth of the "agrarian model" as the reason for summer vacation never seems to go away. I'm still surprised by the large number of educated people who believe that America's history of summer vacation was based on schools letting kids out to work on the farm.  That's simply not true. However, a different argument opposing summer vacation has reared its head in recent years as pundits and education reformers target low student achievement and achievement gaps. The argument against summer vacation is based on theories of the summer slide. Basically, students exhibit "learning loss" during their time off in the summer, as their skills weaken and their knowledge lessens due to the stagnation of not being in the classroom. The subsequent problem is that teachers spend a considerable amount of class time at the beginning of the year reviewing the previous years lessons and re-sharpening academic skills. This "slide" is greatest at our lowest socioeconomic levels and among our student populations with the most significant achievement gaps. And that disparity fuels criticism that summer vacation perpetuates and even worsens in equality. At least that's the claim of Slate's economics writer Matthew Yglesias who says Summer Vacation is Evil.

Well ... that's a bit much.

Certainly, the issue of the summer slide is real and prevalent among some student populations. And, there is no doubt that it can be "a disaster for poor children" because they do not have access to the summer enrichment opportunities such as camps and organized sports/activities enjoyed by their more affluent peers. And many of the summer activities enjoyed by kids are a huge financial drain on families that could save this money - for college? - if kids were just in school year-round. However, it is a bit narrow to gauge the value of summer vacation simply based on the "amount of schooling" lost - for those measurements are only one factor in a person's overall well-being. It's simply problematic to only look at data that can be measured on standardized assessments the way too many studies do. We should not only value and measure a child's development based on what happens in a classroom and measured according to classroom/academic scales. And, summer vacation is not evil and not a time of loss for many children. In fact, there is great value in experiences such as camps and organized sports and summer employment and independent studies and extracurricular activities and family vacation time and, simply, un-organized and free-spirited play.  Rather than simply bashing summer vacation and criticizing it "something nice for teachers," it's probably a better idea to look for ways to engage all populations in "summer learning." It doesn't have to be school. Or it doesn't have to be year-round classroom time for all students. Let's consider the ways to address the summer slide inequality by simply expanding summer enrichment opportunities for all kids.

Summer vacation is not based on agrarian schedules. Summer vacation is not a bad idea. And, sorry Matt Yglesias, summer vacation is not evil.

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