How To Fix Schools: Shorten Summer Vacation

In response to my open call on what should change about school, commenter emeraldlakesfreepress has an interesting suggestion.

I think the school year schedule has to change.  Long summers mean that children have months to forget what they have learned.  6 weeks on, 2 weeks off, with a slightly longer break in the winter and one in the summer, would make learning more continuous and help children to keep in the routine of learning.  Rather than promoting children each summer, based on their ages, they could be promoted after each session, if they have mastered the material.  This would promote multi-age classrooms of learners who are working at their best pace, without the stigma of being “held back”. Schools would become more flexible and fluid and students could be placed more thoughtfully in programs they need.   Teachers would need to become year round professionals, with these short breaks becoming professional development time with a more meaningful work and plans being made for specific students.  The breaks would also allow time to remediate and enrich specific students though tightly focused, short term programs.

I love my long summer vacations, but I love these ideas more.  What if the school year consisted of five 6-week sessions, with short breaks in between?  How could such a system be organized to maximize student learning?  The configurations seem endlessly interesting.

Do you agree?  Do you see any problems with this setup?  Would it work for your school, your children, your community?  Give me your thoughts.

Image by Phil Edon

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17 responses

  1. I’ve attended German public schools for most of my education experience, and they have many short breaks throughout the school year.
    When I attended an American high school, there were three breaks: Winter (3 weeks), spring (2 weeks), and summer (almost 3 months).
    I was able to relax more during my high school years, but I did forget a lot of the things I had to memorize during the previous semesters. I didn’t have that problem in German schools. I was able to jump right back into the school life. But it did become a little stressful after a while.

  2. I am in favour of the summer breaks. They are the only respite I get from hectic schedule all year round! Now that doesn’t mean I don’t like to learn or something like that, but it is a time to be ourselves. We can do whatever we want without the pressure of doing something for the school. That is something I would hate to take away from someone, anyone. Moreover, the idea of multi-age classrooms is good in theory, but how would it play out in the minds of classmates themselves? They would naturally want to term older students as failures. I am a skeptic here, on both counts.

    If anything, today’s method of promoting students on the basis of the knowledge of a subset of what they want us to know is good enough. If anything, exam patterns might be experimented with as in how truly they check us for our knowledge of the subject. Otherwise, economy does a good way to weed out students with qualification but not knowledge. They get on with their lives getting lower wages, without having to face suicidal thoughts in school. :-\

      • Pressure for performance in academics is too big on students. So much so that a girl committed suicide here a few years ago having fear that she performed poorly in pre-boards. The result came out to be 91%! The most unfortunate part is that pre-boards are just preparatory exams at school level that doesn’t matter at all in the main boards examination.

        Otherwise too, there are hundreds of suicides committed by students. So, the approach here is to let students just pass and then let the world out there decide whether the student deserves it or not.

  3. I had always heard that the reason for the long break from school was so children could help their parents tend to farm chores during the busy growing season but a quick web search surfaces other origins such as the desire of wealthy families to escape the city’s heat. Don’t have time to track this down right now but it would be interesting to understand why we have the long break and whether it is tied to anything that is still relevant today.

    What about having more variety in the schedule to make up for shorter breaks? So at a certain point you have a month or two of a very different kind of learning. During Januery, MIT has what is called the Independent Activities Period (IAP) in which there are no formal classes but there are lots of interesting independent projects. I attended a great lecture on how to give a talk (by Patrick Winston) and took a course in decision theory. Other events include cooking and charm school.

  4. I love summer. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to hold down a job that doesn’t have the summer months off again after spending the last 19 years on a school year schedule.

    That being said, shorter breaks would be more beneficial to students with learning disabilities who forget things over a three-day weekend. I don’t know if there is data to support better overall success, though.

    I think most parents would support the idea of say two, one-week breaks at the end of every 9-week period and a three-week break around the Winter holidays with four weeks in the summer. In fact, this would likely translate into more in-seat learning time for students.

    That said, the American education system can’t afford to pay more.

    I really like the idea of having a week or two of non-traditional learning settings. I’m not sure how smooth this would be with younger students, but I know middle and high school students would relish the chance to learn something “real” for a change.

    • Sharon:
      I agree that it would make sense for schools to take more learning out of the classroom – in fact, I hope that, as time rolls on, we will start doing this as much as possible, reserving the classroom only for instances in which it is absolutely the best option!

  5. True power arises out of a relationship with the natural and social worlds – education creates a disruption to these bonding processes which have been a part of all indigenous first nations societies who inhabit the wisdom of place – this is part of the colonial violence of empire – what we truly need is to decolonize and reconnect with the wisdom of place so we can change the habits of civilization which are destroying our planets capacity for life – extended vacation time is the only opportunity our children have to still and connect with the earth and the traditions of the earth at a multi-generationally meaningful level…

  6. Very interesting indeed. I’m a teacher in a small public school in Belgium. I too have a strong feeling that the long summer holiday doesn’t have a great effect on the learning curve of students.

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