As we swelter with unseasonably hot weather this summer, too many children are sitting at home, losing months of instructional gains produced during the academic school year. Education leaders know this to be true based on a wide variety of studies that indicate children without summer enrichment activities lose several months of achievement gains made during the school year.
I just returned from a trip with my wife to Spain and France. I commented during the trip that many American children who were traveling with parents would benefit from these enriching experiences once they return to school later next month. The increase in vocabulary development during travel experiences in foreign lands increases reading comprehension and writing skills. However, many children who do not have families with the extra income to afford travel, summer camps or enhanced learning experiences.
As we focus on eliminating the achievement gap caused by poverty, race and income, we must be willing to increase the school year in Santa Clara County. Also, for many children, even in this wealthiest of counties, not being in school during the summer means fewer meals during the day, because there are no federally subsidized breakfast or lunch programs.
Throughout my years as a teacher, local union leader, principal, school board member and parent, I have advocated for a longer school year than the current 180 days of instruction. But longer does not necessarily mean better or more. The increased hours must be quality enrichment experiences, which could take place in an extended year of 200 days.
In December 2012, Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan said: “Whether educators have more time to enrich instruction or students have more time to learn how to play an instrument and write computer code, adding meaningful in-school hours is a critical investment that better prepares children to be successful in the 21st century.”
Writing in the NY Time’s journalist Motoko Rich reports that several organizations like Rand and the Wallace Foundation are evaluating the effectiveness of various extended-year models to gain more insight into what works to increase overall student achievement. No doubt we should never again throw limited public dollars at practices that do not work to improve student learning.
Rich’s front page article, “Creativity, Not Just Catch-Up, At Retooled Summer Schools,” quotes Professor Harris M. Cooper from Duke University: “Adding 20 days to the school year and having multiple short breaks rather than the one long break actually fits better with the way families live and the way kids learn.”
I couldn’t agree more. Policymakers find it nearly impossible to change a calendar developed for an agrarian society over 100 years ago. This must change.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.