Rethinking Summer Break for Students

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.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. I think keeping kids in school during summer is cruel and unusual punishment and one other thing, I think the curriculum needs to be changed to include teaching kids life skills; how it is in the real world…how to write checks, how to fill out job applications and how to interview. They need to know how to be on their own and take care of themselves. I cannot think of one time where I have had to use algebra or geometry or calculus and couldn’t remember it to save my life. They can get that in college if they choose. Statistics would fair better if it is not offered, already.  Kids take those courses because they have to. They take their tests, pass them and then move on to forget it all. What a waste. Teach them how to sew and how to cook and how to balance check books and handle money. Teach them how to drive and how to be a positive, functional person in society. Life skills. I can’t remember much of any of the history I was taught in school. Just bits and pieces…Columbus, George Washington, Pilgrims, etc. Who cares about the Boston Tea Party? I can understand the need to know how our country evolved and how we came to be, but other than that…not as important as the skills they need to get out on their own and become productive citizens. I just think the curriculum needs to be brought into the 21st century so kids will come out of school knowing how to take care of themselves, without much effort. Maybe if they understood extent of laws, SOME of them would not go bad. Just a thought.

  2. How about stepping off the soap box and leading for a change? Your board has full control over community schools, sounds like a fantastic place to put your words into action. When can we expect your board to extend the school year in the County Community Schools?

  3. While I tend to agree on this matter Joseph, I do think the three month break is something definitive of American culture.  This is also time for Teachers who want to further their education and pursue masters degrees, or earn higher income from tutoring or private classes.
        Food is an issue near and dear to my heart but asking for more federal subsidies is something I am staunchly opposed to, and truthfully it appears as a thinly veiled money grab.
        Add 20 days to the school calender if you must, but no more money.  Work with what you have.

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