Guest views: Let's change to year-round K-12 education

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

We've honored the graduates. All the final grades are in. Another wonderful, challenging, learning-rich school year is finished; congratulations to all the students and educators who made it to summer.

Now, isn't it about time everyone got back to class?

OK, that is an exaggeration. Everybody deserves a vacation-teachers and students, too. For students, though, the problem is that when a vacation comes all at once in the form of summer months off, all that knowledge they've spent time and effort to learn can evaporate like so much summer dew. In fact, there is mounting evidence that having summers off from school is bad for learning. The Wausau School District and central Wisconsin as a whole would be better off with true year-round school.

In fact, we're already seeing a movement in this direction. Local school districts have had steady increases in summer learning programs, and educators in the Wausau and D.C. Everest Area school districts are consciously promoting student involvement in the programs. About half the students in both districts now participate.

Why is this important? Ask any teacher: The first several weeks of the new school year are spent reviewing the stuff students learned the first time the previous year. Research shows that the things students are most likely to forget during the summer are math, spelling and other concrete tasks, as opposed to more conceptual lessons. But memorization of stuff such as multiplication tables or grammar rules are part of what students need to learn. If they don't use them, they lose them.

The research shows something else, too. Summer vacation causes losses for all students, but they are especially pronounced for poor students. That's the at-risk group the system naturally should focus the most on helping; it's also the group that is more likely to have poor scores on high-stakes standardized tests.

It's also worth noting that most places that have instituted year-round school have maintained virtually the same amount of time off. That's important. Academic learning is vital, but so is time spent with family. So is travel. For older youths, so is working a part-time job, or doing community volunteering, or recreation plain and simple-all things summer break is good for.

In fact, some year-round school plans still include a longish summer break, for instance offering a 30-day break instead of a 60-day break.

The point is that we shouldn't think of year-round schooling as schooling with no breaks whatsoever. It is school with vacations reasonably and efficiently allocated.

Summer vacation came about in agrarian times when the break was needed so children could tend the farm. Those days are gone. Most working parents don't have three months off to spend with their kids, and we don't need summer vacation anymore-it's not worth the costs to student learning.

-Wausau Daily Herald

Last updated: 2:32 pm Monday, June 24, 2013

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