This week, my son Noah began his 10-week summer vacation from school in earnest. So far, he’s at his daycare, swimming three days a week, and bowling today. He’s not the only one. So many of my former students at the high school level have been celebrating their summer vacations from school. For some, Memorial Day weekend was the official beginning of summer. For others, particularly in New York, June 25 is the last day of school this year. Most are somewhere in between.
Great for all of them. They are young, they are students, they should be happy to not be stuck in the regimentation that is K-12 education for two and a half months. But the reality is, it shouldn’t be this way. Our American school year should be at least thirty days — or six to seven weeks longer (counting holidays) — than it is right now.
We complain about students coming back to their next school year having forgotten a good portion of what they learned the previous school year. Yet parents complain that a longer school year means higher income and property taxes and a disruption of summer vacations. Teachers and teachers unions refuse to budge on this issue, for they want higher pay (and rightly so) for teachers on a full twelve-month (as opposed to a nine or ten-month) contract and guaranteed time off. School boards can’t afford to do a 210-or-more-day school year. The costs of keeping open school facilities, school food programs, paying teachers and staff, are already hard enough to meet during the current school year format.
But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. We’re in the second decade of the twenty-first century, expecting to compete with the likes of Japan, China, India, Brazil, Russia — heck, Cuba, the EU, even Canada — with a system designed as we understand it today between 1890 and 1920. That’s just wrong. If anything, we should take a page from the modern university and two-year institution and stagger our K-12 school year into a quarter or fifths system, with two to three weeks off between each quarter or fifth. If we made the standard nine-week marking period ten weeks long — with at least two weeks off between each marking period — it would extend the standard school year from the end of August to the end of July, leaving a full month off for teachers and students alike. There would be no need for a summer marking period. But if you had one, as such, it could then only run two to three weeks.
For those who find that solution unsatisfactory, there is another solution. Keep the standard nine-week marking periods, but stagger the summer sessions. Half of the students and teachers will have the period between early June and mid-July off, and the other half, mid-July to the end of August off. That would provide the break necessary for recovery from the school year, provide sufficient time for families and teachers to take vacations, and would extend the teaching contracts of teachers an extra four to six weeks.
No matter what anyone proposes, there will be many who will fight to oppose the extension of the school year. I don’t know too many people who need — or more importantly, can afford — a ten or twelve-week vacation with their kids. Teachers spend part of their summers in professional development anyway, so teaching a few more weeks wouldn’t diminish their teaching skills. And students — well, many students do extra work during the summer months anyway. Why not make that work standard? Oh well. Here I go again, swimming upstream!