NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

It Is Time to Shorten Summer Vacation

August 14, 2013

Summer is a popular time to write opinion pieces calling for the end of summer vacation as an anachronism that widens achievement gaps between rich and poor students.  The details of the argument vary, but the basic premise rests on research indicating that students from disadvantaged backgrounds experience learning loss over the summer while their more affluent peers often make learning gains, says Matthew M. Chingos, a fellow in the Brookings Institution's Brown Center on Education Policy.

There's clearly a slam-dunk case for eliminating (or at least dramatically shortening) summer vacation, which fits into a broader push to lengthen the school year beyond the 180 days that is typical in the United States.

But ending summer vacation isn't as simple as passing a law extending the school year by roughly two months -- it has to be paid for somehow.

  • Teachers will expect to be paid for working significantly more days, and there are other costs of keeping schools open (such as air conditioning in many parts of the country).
  • It may well be the case that these costs are justified by the achievement gains of having students spend more time in the school, but in the current fiscal environment substantial increases in educational spending are unlikely to be forthcoming.

How can schools substantially lengthen the school year without spending any more money than they currently have?

  • One potential strategy is to increase class size in order to free up resources that can be used to pay teachers for the extra days worked.
  • In the United States, the typical elementary student is enrolled in a class of 20 students with a teacher paid an average of about $56,000.
  • Increasing the school year by 30 days (six out of about nine weeks of summer vacation), and paying teachers the same rate per day, would mean a salary increase of about $10,000.
  • This could be accomplished (without any impact on overall spending on teacher compensation) by increasing class size by 3.3 students.

The research on summer learning loss makes it clear that summer vacation is an important driver of inequality in academic achievement. Fortunately, it appears to be the case that our public education system can afford to end this anachronism, even in trying economic times.

Source: Matthew M. Chingos, "Ending Summer Vacation Is Long Overdue -- Here's How to Pay for It," Education Next, August 8, 2013.


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