We’ve known for years that Americans are falling behind other nations when it comes to education.
Our PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) scores for math and science have been in the middle of the pack for developed countries and don’t reflect the amount of time, money and energy Americans spend on the educational system. If we want to compete with countries like Finland and South Korea when it comes to education, we must pick up on the things that they do differently that give them the edge, starting with switching to a year-round academic calendar.
On Nov. 23, the Indianapolis School Board made the decision to change the schedule for public schools, adopting a schedule of year-round classes. Schoolchildren in Indianapolis will now go to school in cycles of eight to 10 weeks, with three to five weeks off after each. Indianapolis is the only American school board that has changed its policy following the model of more successful countries. Change to this new idea, though, is still slow. If we really do want to improve our educational system, we need to adopt the ideas that work.
The three-month summer vacation for students started in the early 20th century. Before that, urban schools operated year-round with short breaks between quarters. But there were medical concerns that children could not handle that much time behind a desk. One quarter of the school year was taken out. The summer was chosen because of heat-related issues in poorly ventilated school buildings and the fear that hot, crowded environments sped up the spread of diseases.
These outdated medical concerns about the stressful lives of children and issues made irrelevant by central air conditioning are no longer valid. When it comes to a three-month break from school, all we get now are the drawbacks.
For instance, on average, students lose approximately a month’s worth of math skills each summer. Also, reading comprehension suffers which is worse in lower-income areas where students don’t have access to summer reading programs. When the students come back after a long break, they have to be re-taught everything they lost, resulting in valuable time wasted.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who sponsored this new policy in Chicago, is pushing to make these changes on a national stage. The idea is to still have a one-month break in the summer and another one in the winter. There would be more days in school, students would still have the breaks that they would need to unwind and be effective since they would be scheduled more frequently. Duncan has the support of many education experts and President Barack Obama as well.
Even with unavoidable evidence stating that a break from school this long is detrimental to students’ education, even though Obama and Duncan support this initiative, the majority of Americans support keeping the traditional system in place.
It makes sense that so many people would be against it. We’ve grown up enjoying our long summer vacations and any career professional would kill to have those three months back. We simply don’t want to spend more time in school.
Currently American students go to school 180 days out of the year. Americans (especially younger students) don’t want to be more like Israel or Japan where their school days are 216 and 243 days, respectively.
But there’s a reason Israel and Japan embarrass us with their test scores. Not only do they spend more time in school, they use that time more efficiently. Unless we’ve become complacent in being the metaphorical C-student in the room, we need to adapt. This is also a lesson every student needs to learn as soon as possible. Even on a college level, the three-month vacation takes away a lot of what we learn, and too much time and effort is spent re-learning information that shouldn’t have been forgotten in the first place.
To every student reading this getting ready for another three-month break, let it be known that it never hurts to occasionally dust off the textbooks sitting in your closet and brush up. Who knows, it might lead to you being a step ahead of your classmates.