Summer is Education's Weak Link

Marion Herbert's picture
Thursday, July 5, 2012

Most students lose academic skills over the summer. And we've known since 1964.

Ah, summer. Lazy grassy afternoons, damp towels, the scent of chlorine. It's a sweet scenario, but for working parents summer is a treacherous season, filled with wrangling and expense over how to fill the 10-week break with worthwhile activities and good supervision.

Like many full-time working parents, my husband and I spend more than $7,000 a year on day camp for our two children. We employ an afternoon baby-sitter, too, who also has to be paid. Every October we start saving to meet the cost.

And we're among the lucky families. Pat Lenehan, a single father in Deer Park, told Newsday that he may have to leave his 11-year-old home alone if Suffolk County eliminates the family from its subsidized child care program. High demand and lower state funding may force the county to drop 1,200 children this month.

Yet increasingly, children are being raised in homes where all the adults work. In 2010, nearly half of households with children were headed by two working parents, and another quarter were single-parent homes.

The answer isn't more child care, it's more school. That would solve a much bigger problem than what to do with the kids during the summer: the need to improve education.

Most students lose academic skills over the summer. And we've known since 1964, when standardized tests began comparing students worldwide, that our kids rank poorly -- currently in the bottom half among 30 developed nations in problem-solving, reading, math and science.

Many school reforms have rolled through our classrooms in the past four decades, but one thing we haven't tried on a large scale is more time in class. At 180 days a year, Americans have one of the shortest school years. Germany, Japan and South Korea average 220 to 230 days.

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