Why summer vacation should be expelled

Beyond the billions spent on camps and activities, the ultimate cost may be how kids lose skills and learning.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 25, 2013 2:08PM

Two teenagers sit on a bed watching TV (Betsie Van der Meer/Stone/Getty Images)The summer vacation is one of childhood's sacred cows, but it's increasingly coming at a high cost for families. 


Americans will spend $55 billion this summer to enroll their kids in day and sleep-away camps and for other activities, such as sports teams, pool memberships and arts programs, according to an American Express (AXP) report. 


That boils down to $856 per child, a 40% jump from 2012, the study found. 


The summer vacation from school, which typically lasts from mid-June through late August, is often thought to be a relic of America's agrarian past, although one sociology professor argues that the belief is a misconception.


Instead, according to Bob Thaler, an assistant professor of sociology at Saginaw Valley State University, the summer break was created for urban families because cities were "hot, dusty, smelly, uncomfortable places to live in summer."


While many families would love to skip camp payments, they're increasingly necessary, given that about 71% of women with children now work. 


Most American families view the summer break either with joy (from the kids' point of view) or with dread (many parents). But aside from the toll on Americans' pocketbooks, there's another cost to be paid. 


Summer vacation disproportionately hurts low-income students, as Slate's Matthew Yglesias points out. [Slate is owned by Microsoft (MSFT), as is MSN moneyNOW.] The idle time during summer break results in the average student's shedding one month of learning, but low-income students lose even more ground, a 2011 Rand study found.


Adding to the problem is that each summer vacation magnifies the problem for low-income students because the learning loss is cumulative over time, the study found. That may play out in even more difficulties for low-income kids to get ahead or make it to college. 


At a time when social mobility is hotly debated -- mounting evidence shows that it's not always easy for low-income kids to climb the income ladder -- here's one idea: abolish summer vacation. 


Sure, it wouldn't be popular with kids and companies already hawking back-to-school gear, such as Wal-Mart (WMT) and Apple (AAPL). But given the hit not only to Americans' pocketbooks but to schoolkids' achievement levels, it's an idea worth considering.


Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 


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43Comments
Jul 25, 2013 3:46PM
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I am sad to hear again about the disadvantages of child of low-income families. But it is about time we start looking at the parents of these low-income families. Take some responsibility yourself. If you want to have 5 or 6 or more children, know that you are not going to be able to spend as much on programs for them as the family who has only 1 or 2 kids. My son makes a decent income and is able to enroll his 2 children in special educational programs. Had he decided to have more kids, he would not be able to enroll his kids in these programs. I'm tired of people with large families who expect the same advantages as those who only have 1 or 2 kids. Also, any type of aid should be tied to the size of the family - I'm tired of supporting these 'baby factories'.
Jul 29, 2013 1:21PM
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Actually, I make $32,000 a year, have one child, and can only afford a swim pass as our form of entertainment. We camp in the back yard and take walks at night.  The 3-kid welfare clan next door however manages to make it to the State Fair and everythin in-between in the summer.  Low-income families fare better than we do with all the amenities afforded to the "poor" programs.   Heck sometimes I wish I qualified for something.  Especially at Christmas when we pass out 3-4 gifts each and their porch gets filled by the charities in town.  Makes me kind of throw up in my mouth a little.
Jul 26, 2013 11:16AM
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We keep increasing the amount of time kids spend in school and they come out dumber than ever. Its not the quantity of time but the quality of the education that matters. Bigger schools more teachers and our kids can barely read when they graduate H.S. I was in school for about 8 months each school year. I learned more  than most kids do in 2 years of schooling today. More is not always better. Our education system is a joke. If you want a babysitter hire one. Kids need time from school to just be kids. No wonder drug use, suicides and crime in general are on the rise. Let them be kids. They will be healthier, mentally and physically. Too many students of too many cultural backgrounds in one humongous building leads to discipline problems. Need to go back to smaller neighborhood schools, where kids and families know and respect each other. Then they can start learning again.
Jul 25, 2013 4:36PM
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I think the idea of year-round schooling is a good idea. It doesn't mean there aren't breaks during the summer. Some schools have it set up to where there are breaks a week or two here or there so there is a break from learning but not all in one two-to-three month lump. That one large lump is what is causing problems for kids and parents alike.
Jul 25, 2013 10:41PM
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While I don't have children, I DO have 22 years of schooling under my belt. I can't imagine I would have been able to do that if I had to go to classes year round. Summer break is VITAL to children and adults, alike, for the mental break needed. I know that people are becoming more aware of the problems facing lower-income families during the summer and I know my own city has a program to collect donations to help feed children during the summer. There is much we can do as a society without forcing children to overwork their brains. 
Jul 26, 2013 9:53AM
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Aw. Let us set it up so no one can raise their own children, anymore. Make school fulltime and blame the teachers for all the ills of the culture that encourages absent parenting because the paid job is the only thing that gets any credit around here.

 

Oh the disdain I see in people's eyes when I tell them we chose to afford a Stay At Home Parent...LOL

 

 

Jul 29, 2013 11:33AM
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If the premise of this article is that parents are burdened by child care costs, maybe they should have considered the costs of children before going that route.  I have one child, who I have been able to provide for adequately.  If I had 4, none would have enjoyed summer camp, sports programs or college tuition.  You need to provide for your kids if you choose to have them.

Secondly, parents also need time off to connect with their child, and recharge their own batteries.  When are the family vacations supposed to happen when kids go to school year round?  This is the one time of the year when quality time takes precedence over the every day grind.  Not many lifetime memories are created when nothing fun or different is allowed to occur.  This whole notion is just ridiculous.  So kids forget some of the things they learned - who cares?  They are learning other, different skills and enjoying their childhood.  There's more to life than school and work.


Jul 29, 2013 10:41AM
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Do better research. The Summer school vacation was created because farmers needed their children for the higher amounts of labor.
More school does not correlate to better education.

This is an argument to keep children occupied so parents can work more.

Summer vacation is the last bastion where a family can be a family and the
government can stay the F*** out of our lives.

PS- The sociologist  they quote was arrested for having child pornography.  Proving the argument that too much schooling causes social dysfunction. Even considering a recommendation from such a sick individual should be criminal.

 




Jul 29, 2013 11:52AM
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I can not believe that anyone believes the answer to the plight of children and their lack of education/learning is to spend even more time in an institution that is failing them at every turn. 
The problem is not the quantity of time spent is schools, the problem is the quality.
Teachers are not to blame as much as the system and the parents.  
The system is set up so that while tons of money is spent supposedly on educating children, the lions share of that money goes to people who never step foot in a classroom.
Couple this with the fact that parents now feel that school is basically free day care or a pseudo parent while the child is there and you have what you have today.
A failed system that no one really wants to fix because fixing it would take power and money away from those who have made their career tearing the thing down to begin with.
Jul 25, 2013 4:49PM
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There is value to a break. I don't agree with the break being three months long though. It would be much better to have a month off and then to offer summer educational programs...full time summer programs with full hours like those that are offered during the school year. Normally an employed person works all year long. I don't think it is unreasonable to expect public school teachers to do the same. I have noticed my daughter's learning curve during the fall and completely agree that she should not be taking a full summer off. However, the only programs offered that will fill the gap are online. There are advantages to human interaction and I think we need more summer offerings for young children.

Jul 26, 2013 12:45AM
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Some districts have implemented year-round school. The pattern is either 3 or 4 blocks of attendance with a 2 to 4 week break between blocks; roughly the same number of school days per year. The most significant obstacle to overcome is meshing sports schedules with schools on the traditional pattern
Jul 25, 2013 5:08PM
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Kids have little to worry about. Too much money is being made by too many people from school summer vacation for it to be threatened with elimination.

Jul 29, 2013 10:37AM
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There are plenty of "summer camps" available for low-income families that are completely FREE or income based. The Boys and Girls Club is a program that offers activities as well as educational basis during the summer. There are other regular camps that even offer grants for lower income families to get into the camp. I work for the Head Start Program and it is part of our job to find these type of programs for lower income families but a large majority of our parents don't work and some don't even want to be bothered with waking up in the morning taking their child to these camps if they don't offer transportation. Many don't do their research, but we do, and we are surprised to find that more parents wouldn't want to take advantage so their children could be learning year around instead of running around the house unsupervised all summer long. 
Jul 29, 2013 1:37PM
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First of all, if parents behaved like parents kids wouldn't lose skills. During the summer vacations, I had to read the newspaper, books, was given puzzles (i.e, crossword, Sudoku) to keep my mind sharp. I wasn't allowed to loaf about. It is NOT the schools responsibility to baby sit your kids for the summer. Let's not use the excuse that they lose skills and language to try to promote some agenda for people to not to take responsibility for their kids. If you want your kids to succeed and achieve THE PARENTS have to be involved with their development. Whether it be supplementing what they do in school or introducing new skill sets. We always want to blame others instead of looking at ourselves. I wish people would stop having kids because it is soooo increasingly clear that 80% of them are not ready to have them. This is the root of the problem and socio-economic issues are a contributory. Kids do not fill voids, kids do not keep men/women in a relationship, kids are not something you have to make you feel better about yourself! I feel sorry for the kids that are brought into this world but I am scared for the world we are creating by having them parented by these parents who do really want to be parents! Just like a car, house or shoes, if you cant afford kids, DONT HAVE THEM!
Jul 29, 2013 11:19AM
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Teacher pay isn't the issue. Teachers can choose a 9 or 12 month wage payment cycle; the teachers I know choose the 12 month cycle.

Generations of children have had a 9 month school year with a 3 month summer break. Why is it suddenly an issue that kids have retention issues? I recall the first month of the school year always being a review of the previous year.

My opinion, and it's just that, an opinion based on my experience and the experiences of my friends/family: Summer vacation is too expensive! Child care (if they are not old enough to stay home alone), summer/sports/art camps if child care is full; what to do with the kids for 3 months? They can't be left alone at home if they are not old enough. My siblings and I were left alone while mom and dad worked, older kids watched younger kids. Not fair, but it was necessary. No child care then.

High school kids would lose out on the opportunity for summer employment; community service, etc.

I really don't think that year round school is a good idea.

Jul 26, 2013 12:49AM
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Peter, brush up on reading comprehension. Low income and large family are two totally different subjects, and family size was not a theme of the article.
Jul 29, 2013 11:46AM
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I've basically been on all sides of the desk concerning this topic. As a public school kid, I loved summer vacations, but I don't think I lost much learning over that time because my whole family were avid readers. (It is possible to learn without a teacher presenting the information!) Secondly, I was a public school teacher. My school did a trial-run with year-round. I loved it! Cycles of 9 weeks on/3 weeks off, then the remaining few weeks as summer vacation. Parents didn't like it though, because the local daycares didn't offer a schedule to accommodate the 3-week breaks. ( I taught in a low-income urban area so it seemed most of the childcare was government subsidized. A little flexibility in their attendance guidelines may have helped a lot.) Lastly, when I had my own children I ended up home schooling them eventually. We could get everything done in less time as there was no attendance/roll call, no standing in cafeteria lines, etc. It gave us the freedom to do daytime activities without interfering with family dinner time (sports, field trips, music lessons, horseback riding lessons in exchange for stable work, library activities, etc.)
Jul 25, 2013 4:26PM
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My guess this idea would make a big hit with the teacher's union for more pay to keep kids in school 12 months a year.  What would the reason be?  Would we advance kids faster by going all year long, say a grade every six months?  Or is the idea to have kids sit there going over the same stuff for 12 months.  The reason for the vacation is a VACATION,  a break in learning.   Families going on a trip, spending time together or a kid learning something new not related to school.

I have raised two kids and have seen the public schools at work, there is so much wasted time.

I took them out of public school and did home school. We got done is 3 hours what took over 6 hours at school.  Wasted time should be the concern, not more time.  After the 3 hours of school work we when on to  tennis practice for tournaments, music, art and having fun.  Best thing I ever did was getting them out of the public school system,  Both are in college now, well adjusted humans.

As for low income families, not all of them have 10 kids and leave them at home, some of the parents take the kids places, read with them and practice math.  There is a lot to do that is free in this world that doesn't take money to make it happen.  You don't have to visit Disney to have fun.  The government (schools) are not needed in our lives every day of every month or every year..  Just because you are low income doesn't mean you are stupid, just poor.  If being rich required being smart there would be few who were rich.


If you want to do something for kids then make sure they are getting a great education 9 months of the year, stop with the three weeks off at Christmas and 2 weeks off at Spring and all the teachers days (which we all know is a 1/2 day of work on a Friday for a meeting and then off for the weekend)



Jul 29, 2013 4:05PM
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I once worked in a school district where all kids went to school for 9 weeks, and then had 3 weeks off. For parents who needed childcare during the 3 weeks breaks, you could enroll your child in enrichment programs free by the district that ran the same length of a school day. They were more fun and relaxed than a regular school day. They got 5 weeks for summer still, and it really diminished student AND teacher burnout. Plus, it is fun to have a vacation in all three seasons.

Don't be afraid of change.
Jul 30, 2013 1:45PM
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First, my credentials:  I have over 20 years of public school teaching experience and a Master's in Administration.  I have chosen to stay in the classroom because as a science teacher, I believe that right now, I can affect the greatest number of students through high quality, hands on instruction.  I have worked as a principal for high school summer school programs for many years.  So with this argument, I believe that I do know what I am talking about.  First of all, get off the topic of teacher pay.  Teachers are contracted for 182 days of work in the state that I work in.  That pay is divided up over 12 months and here's a little something I'll bet that many of you do not know, teachers are paid once a month.  Also, lay off the unions as an argument for the topic of year round schools.  If teachers work more days, then they should be compensated for that.  What many people do not know about teachers is that while we do have anywhere from 9 to 12 weeks during the summer, we are often working or taking classes in order to keep our credentials current.  We pay for this out of our own pocket.  Teaching is a demanding profession.  There is no denying that.  We stay because there are still many of us who believe that we are making a difference in children's lives.  Year round schools are not cost effective as our district nearly went under with trying to maintain 4 tracks at 3 of the 5 elementary schools.  The other 2 schools were on a traditional schedule as the junior high and high school had to stay on a traditional schedule for sports.  And before anyone starts yelping about sports being a deciding factor on school schedules, teachers are the first to say it's a little crazy.  We know that sports programs are sometimes the only thing that will keep a kid in school.  What kills me is that the school board always wants to cut the music and arts as a way to save but they won't entertain dumping the sports, but hey, I stayed in school because of show tunes and the stage so I am little biased.  The biggest problem with year round schools is the issue of maintenance plus the costs of running the air conditioning during those hot summer months.  The rooms can never be properly cleaned or repaired.  We also have to consider the costs of transportation.  The bus fleet never gets a rest for maintenance plus the costs of fuel are astronomical.  I know that many districts have already done away with all of these things in an attempt to cut back on budgets but they never seem to cut the administration positions.  Here's the bottom line:  School is not a day-care center.  Students need to read during the summer--go to the library, it's free.  Families need to go to National Parks, museums, places of historical value and they need to connect with their kids even if it is your own backyard.  School is a place.  Education happens everywhere.
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