Should summer break be shorter for some children?

27 May

In Good schools are relentless about basics: School day length, moi said:

Rosalind Rossi, education reporter for the Chicago Sun Times is reporting in the article, 2011 Illinois school report cards: Top schools have longer days.

The 10 highest-ranking suburban neighborhood elementary schools all have longer days for kids than the typical Chicago public school — but shorter ones than those advocated by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and city public school officials.

Chicago’s current typical 5-hour and 45-minute elementary school day — usually without a regular recess — looks paltry compared to a top-scoring 2011 suburban average of just under 6½ hours that includes daily recess, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis indicates.

However, Chicago’s proposed 7½-hour day would keep city elementary kids in school an hour more than their top-scoring suburban counterparts. Such a day is appealing even to some suburban parents.

The Mid Continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) has great information posted at its site about school day length.

According to McRel in the article, Extended School Days and School Years:

Does more time in school matter?

Several scholars have argued that simply extending school time in and of itself will not produce the desired results. Larry Cuban, a Stanford University professor of education, has argued for example that what matters most is not the quantity but the quality of time students and teachers spend together in the classroom (2008).

In our 2000 meta-analysis of the impact of school, teacher, and student-level variables on achievement, McREL concluded that student achievement can be strongly affected if schools optimize their use of instructional time.

In 1998 WestEd researchers Aronson et al. examined the research on time and learning and arrived at three conclusions:

  • There is little or no relationship between student achievement and the total number of days or hours students are required to attend school.
  • There is some relationship between achievement and engaged time, that subset of instructional time when students are participating in learning activities.
  • The strongest relationship exists between academic learning time and achievement.

However, in recent years some notable extended time initiatives have produced gains in test scores, graduation rates, and college attendance, including the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), which increases the amount of time students spend in school by nearly 60%, and Massachusetts 2020. Conversely, a $100 million effort in Miami to extend school days by one hour and add 10 days to the calendar produced no significant benefits.

The key seems to be longer time spent in instructional activities.      

Sarah Garland posted How summer increases the achievement gap at Hechlinger Education Blog:

As I was visiting a school in Delaware last month, an elementary school principal ushered me over to his computer to show me a graph that distressed him. It traced how one of his students, who came from a poor family, had progressed over the course of two years.

A test taken in September of the previous school year was a low point. Then, the student’s achievement level leapt upward in remarkable increments, to a high point in the spring. But by the next fall, the student’s achievement level had sunk again, back toward the point where he had started the previous year.

The principal named the culprit: Summer.

Much of the discussion about the wide discrepancies in educational achievement between poor and affluent students is focused on what schools and teachers should be doing to close it. But researchers are gathering more evidence suggesting that summer—when students are typically out of contact with their schools and teachers—is one of the root causes of the gap.

At the Education Writers Association annual conference last week, a panel of researchers and educators, moderated by Education Week’s assistant managing editor-online, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, discussed how summer affects student learning, and what to do about it.

“When kids return to school in the fall, on average they’ve slipped by about a month from where they were in the spring,” said Catherine Augustine, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research group, and co-author of a report released last year on summer learning programs. But, she added, the averages mask significant differences between poor children’s summer learning loss compared to that of their wealthier peers.

More advantaged children tend to stay at the same achievement level, or even make gains, over the course of the summer, Augustine said: “They’re reading, they’re being read to, they’re going to fancy camps.”

In contrast, poor children fall far behind. “Low-income kids are less likely to be going to those camps,” she said. “They’re more likely to be playing video games, watching TV, and staying indoors, particularly if they live in unsafe neighborhoods.”                                                           


Making Summer Count: How Summer Programs Can Boost Children’s Learning

Published :

June 2011, 93 pages

Author(s) :

Jennifer Sloan McCombs, Catherine H. Augustine, Heather L. Schwartz et al.

Publishing Organization :

RAND Corporation



Summer learning programs can prevent the loss of knowledge and skills that occurs over

the summer for many students and especially low-income students. School districts, providers,

policymakers, and funders should • make planning a year-round effort

• start early to hire quality staff and recruit students

• incorporate best practices from successful programs

• establish partnerships

• seek and support stable funding

• expand the research base on the long-term and cumulative effects of programs.

Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) has some great information about summer learning loss.

In Primer on Summer Learning Loss, RIF says:

On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Studies reveal that the greatest areas of summer loss for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, are in factual or procedural knowledge.

Low-income children and youth experience greater summer learning losses than their higher-income peers. On average, middle-income students experience slight gains in reading performance over the summer months. Low-income students experience an average summer learning loss in reading achievement of more than 2 months.

Summer learning loss contributes to the achievement gap in reading performance between lower- and higher-income children and youth. Research demonstrates that while student achievement for both middle- and lower-income students improves at similar rates during the school year, low-income students experience cumulative summer learning losses over the elementary school grades….

Current Interventions

Remedial Summer School Programs
A survey of the 100 largest school districts recently found that all districts operated some type of summer program. More than 90 percent of summer programs were described as “remedial,” targeting only students who were not on grade level. Remedial summer school programs are typically intermittent single-summer interventions offered only at gateway grades. Findings from a recent study of the Chicago’s Summer Bridge program include:

  • Students were extremely positive about their experiences in summer school.
  • Whether teachers knew their students before summer school was an important predictor of test-score increases and teacher practice.
  • Higher-achieving schools ran more effective summer school programs.
  • The quality of interactions between teachers and students was a distinguishing factor between the most effective and the average classrooms.
  • Students whose teachers spent more time individualizing the curriculum and working with students outside of class had greater learning gains than students in classrooms where teachers spent less time adapting the curriculum and providing individualized attention.
  • Summer school may be a useful intervention for students who are behind, but it is not a substitute for effective instruction during the school year. There was no evidence that Summer Bridge had an impact on school-year learning rates.

Modified School Year Calendars
Another possible remedy for summer loss is modifying the school calendar to distribute the long summer break into shorter cycles of attendance breaks. This intervention does not actually increase the number of days children are in school, but distributes vacation time more evenly throughout the year. Emerging research on this model is generally positive; however, effect sizes associated with modified calendars are small compared to many other educational interventions.

Extended School Year
Attempts to add instructional days to the school calendar are typically based on international comparisons that show that U.S. students spend less time in school than students from high-performing countries, such as Japan. This model faces considerable opposition due to strongly held cultural beliefs about summer and financial interests connected to the current school calendar. For example, the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions supports efforts to fight “bloated school calendars and year-round school calendars.” Arguments against year-round schooling also question the extent to which additional time in school might lead to increased student fatigue.                                                                              

See, Keeping Kids Intellectually Engaged In The Summer

There should not be a one-size-fits-all approach to education. For children who need a longer school year, that extra time should be available.


Dave E. Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen , Time for School?Education Next, Winter 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 1

Education Secretary Arne Duncan on School Day’s Length video …

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

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