NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 12, 2006

Right now, about 50 million children are on summer vacation across the United States.  But can our kids afford to take summer vacation? Frederick M. Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, doesn't think so.

Summer vacation once made good sense -- back when we lived in a brawn-based economy, academic achievement mattered less.  Today, things have changed.

  • For today's children, knowledge and academic skills will be critical to their future success and happiness.
  • In many communities, children are safer in well-run schools than they are at home alone.
  • Most industrialized nations offer no more than seven consecutive weeks of vacation, whereas American school districts offer up to 13.

But the biggest problem with summer vacation today may be its impact on the academic achievement of low-income kids, says Hess:

  • Scores of studies, from places like the Johns Hopkins Center for Summer Learning and the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, have reported that these students lose significant academic ground in the summertime, while their more advantaged peers -- those more likely to read and attend pricey summer camps -- do not.
  • This has been a big factor in aggravating the "achievement gap" for urban and minority children. Programs with extended school years have had much success in boosting the achievement of these kids.

Today, "modified-calendar" schools exist in 46 states but enroll barely two million kids -- about 5 percent of all K-12 students.  Why aren't more schools offering an extended academic calendar?

Source:  Frederick M. Hess, "Summer Vacation of Our Discontent," Washington Post, July 12, 2006.

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