A summer vacation from school is a long tradition dating back to the days when the kids were needed to help on the family farm. In just the past couple of days, I have run across two articles discussing the concept.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed people who think school starts too early and the kids and the tourism industries need a longer summer break.
On the other hand, Time Magazine has an article in this week’s issue that partially blames the summer vacation for lagging performance by American students, particularly those from lower income families. .
There was never any question when I was younger; summer vacation was clearly my favorite time of year. As an adult, however, I have had reason to question why the school systems sit idle for so much of the year. Putting student performance aside for a moment, because I have no experience or expertise in that area, just look at the typical school calendar from an efficiency standpoint.
School systems spend millions on buildings, books, supplies, computers, etc., but only use them for 70% of the time. (A typical school is open for 180 days. There are approximately 260 workdays in a year.) What kind of business could afford to compete if it allowed its facilities and equipment sit idle for 30% of the year?
The same concept can be applied to teachers. They are underpaid on an annual basis, although less so if you consider their pay and workload on a per-day basis. A typical young worker in another field may work roughly 245 days per year, allowing for two weeks vacation and five holidays. A typical teacher contract is for 185-190 days. Looked at on an annual basis, teaching is really a part-time job.
While there are some really great teachers out there, overall the teaching profession does not attract the “best and the brightest.” One reason for this is pay; young adults who are looking at careers know they can make a heck of a lot more money in fields like medicine, law, engineering, finance, business, and so on. Society could easily justify giving teachers a 29% annual pay increase, if the educational system allowed them to work the same number of days as most of the rest of the full-time world.
We have a good friend who is a teacher. She complains about her low pay. However, we don’t hear complaining about her fall break, spring break, Christmas break or more than two months of vacation during the summer.
A year-round school calendar doesn’t necessarily mean that every student would need to be in class for the entire year. Although I suspect some expansion of the number of classroom days wouldn’t hurt performance any. Many colleges solve this problem with summer terms during which the classes meet for fewer days, but for longer time periods each day.
Here is one idea.
A school year of 180 days equals 36 weeks. Add five holidays, two weeks for the December holidays and a week’s worth of annual preparation time for teachers and you come to 40 weeks. That leaves 12 weeks of idle time. Divide those 12 weeks into three 4-week, or two 6-week summer terms. Require students to attend one or two of the 4-week terms or one of the 6-week terms. You would also need to build-in flexibility for siblings to enroll in the same summer terms to allow for summer vacations. This would:
- Expand the students’ classroom time and increase learning;
- Allow teachers the opportunity to work for an entire year and be paid accordingly;
- Make more efficient use of facilities and equipment;
- And still allow time for family vacations.
It’s just a thought.