Some More Pencils, Some More Books...

Remember when summer meant family vacations, sleep-away camp, and time to play in the sprinkler? When ‘no more pencils, no more books’ meant three months to play and lounge and just be children? Until recently, most kids spent only 180 days a year in school—but educators have found that summers spent slipping and sliding in the sprinkler, also meant slipping and sliding in their reading and math skills.

The 180-day school calendar dates back to the late 19th century, when family farms needed kids to till the fields in the summer. Well, the jig’s up, and schools have caught on that most children have traded plowing for picnicking and harvesting for horseback riding. So, many have introduced an extended school year-- schools that are in session eight hours a day, 195 days a year. Such schedules mean more time for students to stay on top of the three R’s, and pursue their own interests in art and music. How much more time? If a student sticks to this regimen through 12th grade, the extra days and hours will add up to almost four more years of schooling.

As part of the push for higher academic standards, at least 25% of school districts--and twice that number in poor, urban areas--mandate summer school for struggling students. In Miami, Chicago and St. Louis, more than 40% of students sweat through summer school. That's in addition to the growing number who enlist voluntarily!

So why a longer school year? And what are the costs?

  • Research shows that all children lose academic ground over the summer, scoring an average of one month lower on standardized exams than they did the previous spring.
  • For disadvantaged students--who often spend summer break plopped in front of TV reruns rather than at day camps or on family treks to Mount Rushmore--the loss in reading can be twice that.
  • In more than 85% of summer-school evaluations, students who attended summer classes outperformed those who did not. 

But the news is not all good:

  • While parents may be shocked at the rising costs of day camps and childcare, the estimated tab to extend public education just one day is $1 billion to $1.5 billion. So far, mainly poor schools, which dip into federal Title I funds, and privately run charter schools manage to foot the bill.
  • In New York City, only 50% of high school students scheduled for summer school have made an appearance.
  • Because students in many cities must retake standardized exams at summer's end, those classes have morphed into all-day test-prep sessions. The merits of such cramming are unclear. Last summer only 40% of New York students who failed the city's exam managed to pass on a second try.


Morse, Jodie. "Summertime and School Isn’t Easy." Time Magazine. Vol. 156, No.5, July 31, 2000.


Douglas County School District-

By Betsy Bayha


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