Time to end summer vacation?

Summer vacation is bad for kids — especially low-income kids, writesMatthew Yglesias on Slate.  Middle-class kids may go to camp, play sports or travel, while poor kids sit at home with the TV. That creates “massive avoidable inequities,” he argues.

A 2011 RAND literature review concluded that the average student “loses” about one month’s worth of schooling during a typical summer vacation, with the impact disproportionately concentrated among low-income students

“While all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer,” RAND concluded, “low-income students lose more ground in reading while their higher-income peers may even gain.” . . . Poor kids tend to start school behind their middle-class peers, and then they fall further behind each and every summer . . .

A majority of the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic-status students in Baltimore can be attributed to differences in summer learning loss, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

“School is important,” concludes Yglesias.   “It should happen all year ’round.”

Some urban districts are “blending academics with recreational activities” to prevent summer learning loss, reports EdSource. Most enrichment programs are run by nonprofits and supported by federal or state funds and foundation grants, not by district funds.

Traditional remedial summer classes can be “pretty grim,” said Katie Brackenridge, senior director for expanded learning initiatives with the Partnership for Children and Youth, whose “Summer Matters” campaign pushes for expanded summer programs. “Part of it is that kids already walk in the door probably not liking learning so much, and that’s how they got stuck in remediation in the first place. We’re looking at how do you make those learning opportunities engaging.”

Seventh graders at Oakland Unified’s Coliseum College Prep Academy visited San Francisco’s Exploratorium, then used baking soda and calcium chloride  to explain chemical reactions to the eighth graders.

Santa Ana-based THINK Together offers summer enrichment programs to nearly 13,000 students in 10 school districts throughout the state.

Enrichment programs typically run about six weeks and are offered for as long as six hours a day. Mornings are traditionally spent on academics, while the afternoons are dedicated to hands-on STEM studies – science, technology, education and mathematics programs – arts and crafts, lab work or sports.

According to a Summer Matters study, How Summer Learning Strengthens Student Success, students raised their vocabulary skills as much as one-third of an instructional grade in six weeks and improved their attitudes about school and reading.

Funding summer enrichment programs for disadvantaged and struggling students is a lot cheaper than extending the school year by one or two months.

About Joanne


  1. Roger Sweeny says:

    “While all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer,” RAND concluded, “low-income students lose more ground in reading while their higher-income peers may even gain.”

    Hmmm. I wonder why that happens. Call me crazy but I’ll bet if you did a more fine-grained analysis, you’d find that the kids who don’t read during the summer lose ground in reading and the kids who read don’t lose ground and may actually gain. High-income parents generally read (that’s one reason they’re high-income) and encourage their children to read. Low-income parents not so much. Keeping low-income kids in school during the summer may force them to keep reading and getting better at it. Or it may have a similar effect to pushing on a string.

    • Or we could just come to terms with the fact that summer vacation’s a relic of an earlier age and were it not a practice enshrined in antiquity would be considered an indefensible interruption in what’s otherwise sold as a crucial process. I mean if education’s so damned important how is that for a quarter of each year it becomes subordinated to, well, what?

      • It’s a “relic” of industrialization, certainly, but even in the information age it remains quite popular – and there’s no evidence that the cumulative effects of more frequent extended breaks is less than the “backsliding” from a long summer recess. So unless we’re expanding the school year, which would require a significant expenditure, a call to eliminate summer vacations seems to be little more than rearranging the proverbial deck chairs.

        • Rather more likely is that summer vacation’s a relic of our agricultural past since the growing season’s the time when most of the work is done on the farm. From back when 80% of the population was engaged in agriculture.

          As far as “popularity” being a worthwhile consideration, is it more important then education? If it’s not then summer vacation’s too long or ought to be done away with entirely. After all, the tykes aren’t absorbing knowledge like the thirsty, little sponges they are if they’re not in school so if they’re not backsliding they’re not forward-sliding either. Is education important or isn’t it.

          But since there’s no one here but us chickens let’s be honest.

          We both know that summer vacation’s one of those sweet perqs of being a teacher and as far as “significant expenditures” are concerned, dream on. Working a full year for a full year’s pay, rather then three-quarters of a year, is what most people do. It’s long, long past time that teachers did the same.

          • Actually, in true farming communities, children got long breaks for spring planting and fall harvest, but went to school in the summer. There’s really not that much work to be done once the crop’s in the ground and ripening.

            Summer break is more an artifact of the idea that schools should be as climate-controlled as the homes– cheaper to have a break than install AC.

            Also a relic of people wanting to flee the heat and disease of a packed, unsanitary city during the summer….

            But pioneers actually WENT to school in the summer, because they weren’t needed at home then.

          • Roger Sweeny says:

            Backing up, and expanding on, what Deirdre Mundy wrote:

            “Assistant Professor Ken Gold with the City University of New York in Staten Island … said, ‘the earliest school years in the United States were very different based on whether they were urban or rural communities. Both, though, had summer terms.’

            “Urban schools essentially ran year-round. For example, in 1842 New York City schools were in class for 248 days. Rural schools took the spring off to plant, and the autumn off to harvest. The summer isn’t actually the busiest time in agriculture.

            “So how did the summer term come about? According to Gold, you can attribute summer vacation to the school reformers of the 19th century, for several reasons.

            “1. Standardized school years. School reformers wanted to get rural and urban schools on the same schedule. Since rural areas had two terms – in the summer and winter – and urban schools ran year round, a compromise had to be struck. But, why summer?

            “2. In rural areas, the summer term was seen as ‘weak.’ Gold said the summer term in rural neighborhoods tended to be taught by young girls in their mid to late teens. On the other hand, schoolmasters, generally older males, taught the winter terms. Because of this, the summer terms were seen as academically weaker.

            “3. In urban areas, rich families vacationed in the summer. City schools were trying to limit the school year in the mid-19th century anyway, to adjust to the schedules of wealthy families who would generally go on vacation in the summer.

            “4. It’s hot in the summer. The school buildings of the 19th century weren’t exactly air-conditioned. Heat during the summer months would often become unbearable.

            “5. Summer gives teachers time to train and get ready for next year. In the 19th century teachers didn’t really go to college or get certified, so Gold said they would use the summer months to train.

            “6. Doctors thought kids would need a break. This idea isn’t given much medical credit these days, but Gold said back in the 19th century it was believed medically unsound for students to be confined to a classroom year-round.

            “Given all that, school reformers decided the summer term was the best one to take off.

            “’Once that summer vacation was created and really embedded in American culture and psyche, there is a number of economic interests that are centered around summer leisure, or summer leisure pursuits,’ said Gold.”


  2. So, we’re expected to re-arrange society for the least successful?

    I don’t know, there’s something just wrong about that. In my district, we would have an uproar. In mixed economic demographics, the successful parents would through a fit. And quite rightly. Their children don’t have this problem, and summer is enrichment for their children. So, you would have to make it “voluntary” and then no one would come. Or come very hesitatingly.

    • As has often been the case with PE classes, those who need the classes the most are the least likely to put in the effort.

      It doesn’t take much money to take your kids to the library and enroll them in a summer reading program (I’ve never encountered a library without one), make sure they do read appropriately, have them re-do the words from the year’s spelling list, do some flashcards or math problems (again, keep old papers and recycle), visit local museums, parks, places of interest, free outdoor concerts etc.

      Just last year, a DC student finishing his first year at Georgetown U, wrote that he was seriously lacking the background of his fellow classmates – and he had gone to one of the better charter high schools. He not only had never done expository writing, had never read classic literature and had never been to any of the government buildings, museums, parks, historical sites, summer concerts, gardens etc with which DC is absolutely overflowing. None of his teachers ever even suggested it. At some point, it needs to be said that you, as a parent, and your community need to do these things if you want your kids to catch up – because that’s what educated parents do.

    • Classics Mom says:

      How about make it mandatory for struggling students only?

    • Aye. The voters here the past few years were quite vocal in the opinion that they did not want to offer summer school to truants. They felt that was a waste of money and the students should repeat the full year, rather than be given a packet and a pass. Additionally, some felt that the parents/guardians of truants should pay tuition for any repeated courses. They strongly expressed the opinion that they don’t appreciate the the college prep courses being eliminated in favor of staffing remedial for truants and adding security guards for thugs and wanna-bes.

  3. Roger Sweeny says:

    There is a basic problem interpreting “learning loss” during the summer. Unquestionably, it occurs. However, it is not unique to summer. Take any two and a half month period during the school year and you will find that a significant amount of “learning loss” has occurred. Most classes “do a unit,” have some sort of summative assessment, and move on. Unless that previous unit is continually used, much of it will be forgotten.

    It is much harder to generate data on the magnitude of this “learning loss” than it is to gather data comparing the end and beginning of a school year. However, anyone who has taught knows it is significant.

    To the extent that summer learning loss is just an easy-to-measure case of a more general phenomenon, extending school to the summer will have no effect on it.

  4. I remember the summer vacations from school I had as a child. We didn’t go to summer school or camp or anything of the sort. We just goofed off doing absolutely nothing constructive or having any redeemable social value. It was great!

  5. I think we may be reaching a tipping point, where taxpayers balk at ever-increasing funds funneled to the “high-need”. At some point, parents and communities need to accept the responsibility to socialize their kids properly and to value education enough to work to get one. Most of the people in my home town were poor, but they were hard-working and they built and maintained strong families who raised decent kids. The public schools’ history of tolerating disruptive/antisocial/criminal behavior is pretty short; since the late 60s or so. It’s time to stop wasting time and money on those who can’t or won’t, and focus on those who can and will.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Amen to that – we need the summer to unwind and do things. We’ve always given dd some “assignments” and even had her in a few summer programs that were heavy on the arts/crafts/outdoors. But the downtime to read heavily, schedule doctor and dentist appts, perform those mandatory “volunteer” hours is priceless.

      There could be some voluntary offerings. Whe I was in HS – before Running Start and AP classes – I took classes to graduate early – these courses were a combo of the kids who either flunked or were ill and hence behind, and the few of us who were like-minded about early graduation. It worked, but then few of the kids who had flunked were actual behavioral problems.

  6. Mark Roulo says:

    Meanwhile, some schools are going with “Block Scheduling” during the traditional school year …

    • One of my sons spent his first two years in a HS with block scheduling and HATED it. Even though he was in all honors classes (school had reg and college prep, plus APs with honors prereqs), he said that half of every class was wasted and lots of the material wasn’t covered in class (he did it on his own, during general chatting). Very few of the kids could tolerate a whole block of mostly-lecture, with the attendant homework/reading, and that was the only way to cover the whole year. A close relative whose HS switched to blocks, said the same thing. It’s even worse in heterogeneous classes.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Grew up in a middle-class or lower middle-class district. Vacation was usually, at most, visiting relatives some distance away. Maybe their town had a pool. Was near a beach. In the mountains. But there was more ice cream and seeing cousins and their friends. So it was a big deal.
    If Dad doesn’t have time off, you don’t go anywhere.
    Summer vacation was doing mostly baseball or somethng. Maybe Little League.
    I read a lot, but that’s me. Played baseball, killed Krauts and Japs when younger in the excavations for next year’s subdivision.
    Biked here and there.
    Enrichment? Never heard of it, nor would we have stood for it.
    We did okay. It was that generation the drop from which is employing many lamenters about current generations.
    So it’s probably something else.

    • Here, a writer grapples with an inequality caused by an absence of school in the summer. Rather than advocating for positive summer programs for poor kids, which would make a lot of sense, the writer argues for a longer school year, and if you read carefully, it’s partially to prevent one group of kids from getting further AHEAD.

      This only makes sense if avoiding inequality is the highest good, rather than increasing gains for individuals.

  8. Stacy in NJ says:

    For the love of God, Matthew Yglesias needs to STFU. Has he written anything that’s not complete tripe?

    • Mark Roulo says:

      2331 comments at the Slate article, which mean who knows how many page hits. No, he isn’t going to STFU. Not when what he writes drives this much traffic to Slate.

  9. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    The real reason that summer vacation has got to go is that summer vacation serves as a reminder that there are many students out there who have such good parents that…

    …they don’t need school.

    Such students are an affront to the system that must be covered up at all costs.

    • I remember how frustrating it was to come back from summer and have to spend the first 6 weeks on stupid, boring REVIEW. The problem isn’t that kids lose learning over the summer. The problem is that they never really LEARNED the stuff to begin with.

      I mean, I don’t take timed tests, but I still know my math facts!

      I’ve been out of school since 1999. Shouldn’t the intervening time off from school without cool robotics camp have made me into a blob of drool by now?

  10. Elizabeth says:

    I just read the article – the author was bemoaning the fact that some kids don’t get an $11,000+ (yep, that’s the right number) summer camp experience, hence are deprived. Gee, by that definition, even the rich kids I grew up with were deprived.

  11. I guess I don’t understand why the Summer Feeding Programs can’t be expanded. If they’re coming to the district for breakfast, couldn’t we hire a clerk and open the school library, so they could check out a book and then use the time between breakfast and lunch feedings to read and to play/exercise?

    • In our town, the library sends the bookmobile to the summer food program sites…. but the only kids who use it are the ones whose families use it anyway.

      The problem is a cultural difference. Some families encourage kids to read and play outside and do things over the summer. Others park the kids in front of the video game system. Any non-mandatory program won’t reach the kids who need it.

      • wow .
        I am taken aback by the lack of empathy and love the comments above reflect, which seem to correlate with an astonishing lack of class consciousness. The problem with public education, as with all of our other public institutions, is that they are under attack from the 1 %ers . It is well documented that the top 1% are getting enormously richer while the rest are falling behind. Public institutions are being robbed of resources and an ideological attack is being orchestrated by the Koch brothers of the world through organizations such as ALEC against teachers and other working people. The message is the same – fend for yourself , fear others and particularly those of folks with different skin color who complain all the time… in all the comments above, including the original article, there is not one mention of how to pay for any suggestions for adding to the school year… we need to redistribute wealth and power in this country, in the world. Then we will see the cultures of appreciation for reading , education etc change. When one’s parents work all day and night and one’s hopes are crushed every day by reminders of the powerlessness and lack of mobility in our society the chances of ambling down to the library over the summer might be less than in Atherton or other communities of wealth…

        • Roger Sweeny says:

          Since “class consciousness” is often a nice way of saying, “hate the rich,” I’m not going to take too seriously your complaint of “lack of empathy and love.”

        • The problem is that, for a lot of the kids who are behind in school and don’t visit libraries or museums, the parents DON’T work day and night. Rather, Dad’s in jail and Mom’s on the dole. And it’s been 4 or 5 generations in those families since anyone had a job. Instead, all these kids know is ‘Have a kid at 15, get on welfare.’

          If that’s your life plan, why should you pay attention in school, go to the library, or explore the city? But the culture is sick, and we can’t change it with more school.

          Telling these kids ‘studying hard and getting a job are the keys to success’ is like telling me ‘you should move to rural Italy and be a sustenance farmer.’ Both modes of life are completely alien to our current situations.

          The problem’s not poverty. It’s that the ‘War on Poverty’ created a permanent underclass. I wonder if that was actually the point?

        • [W]e need to redistribute wealth and power in this country, in the world.

          Who is we, David? How would “we” determine in what manner to redistribute the wealth and power? Who are they taken from? Do they get a voice here? Or do “we” just abuse them and take from them because they’re rich and powerful?

          Who are the wealth and power given to? Surely, “we” can’t just give them to any old people who ask. They need to be the right people. Who are the right people to receive the wealth and power here?

          Now, if you just answered all those questions, answer me this… just who do you think you are? Really. Who are YOU to answer those questions? What gives YOU the right to lay claim to others’ wealth and power?

          It’s so easy to say that “we” need to redistribute wealth and power. It’s an empty slogan, sickeningly jingoistic. It’s also evil in that it is rooted in pure, unadulterated greed.

          And yet, you have the chutzpah to talk about a “lack of empathy and love” from another commenter. Heh.

  12. The problem goes beyond summer vacation and school. It takes determination to protect one’s evenings, weekends, and so forth. Schools and workplaces assume that you’re available around the clock (and around the year) unless you insist otherwise.

    The trick is to do just that: to insist otherwise. Whether or not students need three months of summer vacation, they do need vacation–not only for rest, but for liberty of mind. You need some removal from school or the workplace in order to think on your own, try out things that interest you, etc.

    I wrote a satirical piece on this topic: http://www.cronknews.com/2013/08/01/no-more-seasons-says-college/