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Long Summer Vacation From School No Longer Makes Sense

Memo Pad National News

Long Summer Vacation From School No Longer Makes Sense


The rituals and rhythms of summer are seductive. Long, light-filled days. Afternoons in the neighborhood swimming pool. Fresh tomatoes plucked off the vine. Mosquitoes and humidity.

OK, those last two are not among the delights of summer, but they come with the territory in my part of the United States. And even the mosquitoes help me remember what summers meant to me as a child: freedom to roam on my bike, to pick berries, to play sandlot softball with friends.

The leisurely summer is deeply embedded in communal memory, an artifact of the relatively affluent Western lifestyle. It occupies so central a place in American popular culture that it would be difficult to abolish. But it’s time to do so. The long summer vacation from school has outlived its usefulness.

The way we live now demands a better-educated workforce, young men and women for whom obtaining post-secondary education is automatic — as customary for the average student as getting a high school diploma is now. In this modern age, kids need to spend more hours in school to read well, to write clear and concise sentences, to comprehend basic algebra and geometry.

While the chattering classes have spent years denouncing public schools for their alleged failures, schools are, in general, doing a better job of educating the young than they were 50 years ago. The problem is that they haven’t improved enough to keep pace with the demands for more and more skills. The school calendar — still fixed, for the most part, at 180 days a year and 6 1/2 hours a day — is part of the problem.

(Many school districts have experimented with so-called year-round school, with shorter summers but more vacation days year-round. Most of those schools still give their students about 180 days a year.)

The design of the school year is left over from a bygone era, when children were expected to help with the tasks of maintaining home, hearth and farm. Summer is a time for harvesting the spring yield and planting the fall crops, and children used to help with the plowing, the planting and the picking.

Cynthia Tucker Haynes

Cynthia Tucker Haynes, a veteran newspaper journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, is a Visiting Professor of Journalism and Charlayne Hunter-Gault Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Georgia. She is also a highly-regarded commentator on TV and radio news shows.

Haynes was editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper for 17 years, where she led the development of opinion policy. More recently, she was that newspaper’s Washington-based political columnist. She maintains a syndicated column through Universal Press Syndicate, which is published in dozens of newspapers around the country. Besides winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2007, Haynes has also received numerous other awards, including Journalist of the Year from the National Association of Black Journalists.

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  1. stcroixcarp July 27, 2013

    Again, an education writer has missed the point of education. Her reason for shorter summer vacations is to IMPROVE TEST SCORES, as if test scores actually measure how well a child is educated. I am all in favor or quality educational activities in the summer, but kids need time to change pace and apply what they have learned in an academic setting. They need to be outside and stay up late enough to see a summer full moon rising in the south east, and hear crickets, play music, and connect with each other in spontaneous unstructured games. In short, there is a real world out there that kids need to learn how to navigate.

  2. johninPCFL July 27, 2013

    A point missed here that has been validated through testing is that poor children chalk up the same gains in knowledge during the school year as well-to-do children, but those gains are lost across the summer as the well-to-do don’t take the summer off but continue learning. Just like compound interest, a few percent per year of increase turns into a grade-level of learning difference across a decade.

    1. charleo1 July 28, 2013

      No John, I disagree. I think the evidence is just the opposite. Poor children
      don’t do nearly as well in school as their financially better off classmates.
      For many reasons. Some as basic as it being hard to concentrate when
      they are hungry. Which is, inexcusably the case far more often than many
      Americans are aware. Poverty effects every aspect of their lives. The
      parents, or more often, the single parent is often so occupied with working,
      and making ends meet, and is often poorly educated herself. (Women head
      most single parent homes below the poverty line.) There is no time for the
      vital efforts by the parent at home, educators say is a big determiner of a
      child’s success. And that student’s ability to deal scholastically with the
      rigors of secondary education. That’s assuming of course the financially
      poor student actually finishes high school at all. In some lower income
      high schools in the Washington D.C. area the dropout rate is nearing 50%.
      But schools in all inner city neighborhoods, dealing with crime, gangs,
      drugs, and high rates of early teenage pregnancy, the generational nature
      of poverty, and it’s causes are never more evident than in our schools
      near total failure to equip that next generation of disadvantaged poor, to
      break the continuing cycle of poverty.

  3. Allan Richardson July 27, 2013

    The informal “education” of summer vacation is certainly valuable in humanistic terms, but it does not have to be two and a half months long. Parents are lucky to get two WEEKS of vacation, so there is no way for a child to go away for that long, except to a “sleep away” camp, which less affluent parents cannot afford. And knowing THIS writer from reading her prior columns, I do not think her aim is ONLY to improve test scores (although for the time being, that goal has been imposed on us).

    Most proposals for shorter vacations involve keeping the SCHOOL buildings open year round, but dividing the students into “shifts” to take two weeks off, one, two or three times a year. If this is done, the physical assets will be more completely utilized, and more instruction time would allow more time to teach BEYOND the tests and still get good test scores. With good management (I know that is a big assumption), there may even be enough in the budget to bring back FIELD TRIPS during the school year.

    Shortening the summer vacation (or rotating breaks) would also help alleviate a major expense for lower-middle income working parents, who have to get private day care when their children are out of school but they still have to work.

    1. charleo1 July 28, 2013

      Well said! Makes perfect sense.

  4. Lynda Groom July 27, 2013

    Why are there so many people determined to increase the workload of children these days? Most of us who were educated under the tried and true school year, including a nice summer vacation, turned out alright. Today there is a very vocal group who’ve forgotten the joys of summer and first love from our youth. They want to try and keep young people from having some of the same experiences they had when they were young. No drinking, no sex and no fun seem to be the battle cry. Keep children in school longer for their own good. There may indeed be a long list of problems with education these days, but I can’t see Summer being one of the majors. Our grandchild attends a wonderful school up here in the mountains of Northern California and we’ve gotten to know some of the teachers rather well. As they’ve told us year after year by early May most of the kids are getting very bored with the grind of school and can’t wait until break. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who is calling for a longer school year.

    1. Independent1 July 29, 2013

      Lynda, because a program that has been running in Orlando called the Tangelo Park Program has been creating significantly improved results in educating the children there. It has led these children to much better lives and with a world that is becoming increasingly more complex, is much better preparing the students there to compete in today’s world.

      Here is a post made by Robert Hastings on the National Memo some time back that I think is very pertinent to this particular article.

      As the former superintendent of a major urban school district, I have learned that complying with the science and continuum of learning (full day, 50 weeks, very early childhood education is core, starting not later than two years old),
      adding more days and hours to our agrarian era school system (240 days vs 180 days should be the new norm), and stabilizing under served children in schools by adding wrap around services (social, health, education & job training for their parents, many of whom are single female parents, etc.) are the solutions. In defense of our educators, it’s nearly impossible to educate under served children whose parents are constantly moving them from school to school because of their economic situation. Some schools experience greater than >25% mobility rates (i.e., 25% turnover every year of new students).

      The Solution – It does indeed Take A Village. A community-based education system, like the 18 year-to-date Tangelo Park Prog (TPP) in Orlando, is germane. The TPP is a full day, 50 weeks Pre-K, starting at two years old, through college graduation/post-secondary school and career tech model, in a traditional (as opposed to charter) K-12 school feeder pattern, augmented by holistic family support services and philanthropy. The results for this poor African-American community are compelling: 98% high school graduation (100% in the last 10 years); 75% college acceptance; 75+% college graduation (national average – 58%; African Americans -41% ; Latinos – 48% ; Whites – 60%, & Asians – 69%); and a 52% reduction in crime, resulting in a doubling of housing values in the last 10 years. This prog is producing Ph.D’s vs prisoners. These results rival the best schools & communities in suburbia. (Note: Harlem Children’s Zone is a charter model that will also work.)

      There are approx 2500 poor communities like Tangelo Park in our nation. If we implement this type model in these poor communities, then we will fundamentally change America. We can expect a return-on-investment (ROI) of seven dollars for every one dollar invested ($7:1). This ROI has been documented in a study of the TPP by Dr. Lance Lochner & his professor, the Nobel Laureate economist, Dr. James Heckman in his compelling Oct 2004 research working paper, Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children = very early childhood education is core (repeated for emphasis). Thus, a true stimulus investment of $500B in public and private funds would yield a return of $3.5 trillion in increased productivity of our citizens, lower crime and incarceration rates, lower social and medical costs, increased tax revenue and more globally competitive citizens, which will yield an increase in U.S.-based international businesses.

      Bottom-Line – This model requires a 20+++ year commitment. Thus, politicians can’t get us there. They are constrained by their two, four or six year election cycles via which they are looking for quick fixes to problems that require long-term systemic solutions. Plus any programs they propose are subject to be changed by the next administration or party in control. As citizens, we must take control of our education system and implement the changes required to ensure our children’s future. Teachers will be our biggest allies in this quest and, as documented in the Heckman ROI study, we will be able to pay them more in salaries vice merit pay and bonuses, and mitigate the pressure to cheat or scam the system. If we don’t, then we’ll be having this same or similar conversation 10 years from now.

  5. Pamby50 July 27, 2013

    As a teen I experienced this type of education first hand. We moved from the city to an expanding suburb in the 1970’s. They couldn’t build schools fast enough for the growing population. We were put on tracks. Go to school for 9 weeks off for 3 weeks. Everyone is off for 2 weeks and the new school year begins. At any given time 3 of the 4 tracks were in school. My younger brothers went through this in grade school & junior high. Was the education better because we were in school more. I don’t think so. You had to decide if it was worth the trouble to play sports or join a club. On the off track time you had to find your way to and from school. The busses didn’t go to your neighborhood. You tended to make friends on your own track. Very limiting. I can’t say I would promote that kind of education again.

  6. Uglygosling July 27, 2013

    If we can implement a longer school year without also leaving kids exhausted (look at Japan) and burned out, and pay for it at a time when many overworked/underpaid parents are still strapped for money…

  7. ralphkr July 27, 2013

    I am now wondering just where Tucker went to school where students were not expected to go on to college. Slightly over 60 years ago I graduated from high school and it was a given that most of us would go on to college (& most of us did) unless you had spent most of your school year in shop class (and those students got pretty good jobs). No, I did not go to school in Beverly Hills but in a typical small farm town where getting over $1 an hour was considered good pay in the 1950s.

  8. Sand_Cat July 29, 2013

    Wouldn’t want to waste any time allowing children a childhood, would we?
    The sooner we start turning them into mindless automatons producing goods to enrich someone else, the better. As it is, all those third-world kids chained to their machines in unventilated sweatshops are stealing what could be American dollars. No more underage “takers” for us!!


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