Should Summer Break Be Shorter? Schools Shave a Month Off Vacation, Start Classes Now


(Think Stock)In the first week of August over 100 schools around the country are already back in session.

Instead of the standard 180 day cycle, several charter schools and even a handful of public schools have added about 20 days to the academic calendar, The New York Times reports.

Advocates of the shorter summer break say those extra few weeks give students a head-start, particularly for those in low-income areas where class size is at a maximum and extra-curricular support is at a minimum.

"The kids' education is more important than all of these breaks that we have," Debra Phillips, an Arizona-based mom with two kids starting school this week, tells the Times.

By shortening the lag time, study habits are easier to pickup again in the new year, especially if kids have had minimal structure during their time off. At least, that's the idea.

But can 20 extra days really give kids an academic advantage? For now, there's no definitive data on the benefits, though Arizona's Balsz Elementary School District claims reading test scores are up by 15 percent since their own 20-day add-on was approved in 2009.

Better test scores translates to better funding for many public schools in the long run, but scores aren't everything. The cost of staffing an entire school, from bus drivers to teachers, for an additional 20 days means cutbacks in other areas, say summer break preservationists. Always on the chopping block: arts education and extracurricular activities, both crucial to development.

"Quantity is great, if you have the quality to back it up," a veteran fourth grade teacher Kathleen Puryear told the Times.

Not surprisingly, there's been push-back from teachers who consider those two free months an inherent benefit of their profession. But for many parents, particularly those in poorer areas, the shorter breaks are a welcome relief.

At Phoenix's Balsz Elementary School District, 90 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch plans. The free food and savings on additional childcare costs alone, provides financial relief for families on extremely tight budgets.

"I'm a working mom, a single mom, it helps me out a lot," Shaleda Griffin told a local ABC news affiliate. Her kids returned to their Chicago charter school last Wednesday.

With parents forced to work longer hours than ever, it's already a struggle to keep kids protected and engaged during the school year alone. Some advocates of shorter summers argue the 180-day calendar is a relic of a long-gone farming culture. It's also a relic of a past generation of parents, who had more time and funds for family vacations and two-month camps. Work expectations have ratcheted up for parents. It was only a matter of time before kids lost their free time too.

Related:
Pre-back-to-school to do list
Summer reading to prep kids for school
Summer vacation for work-at-home parents

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