In his interview on “The Today Show” Monday, President Obama called for the nation’s schools to boost student performance and restore national competitiveness by embracing extended learning time. With the United States trailing other industrialized countries in classroom time by at least a month, Obama rightly urged longer school days and a longer school year as ways to help bring students up to speed in the global economy, as well as to mitigate the aggravating effect of summer vacation on the achievement gap.
Save the historically questionable “agrarian calendar” cliché (for interested readers, historian Kenneth Gold has more to say on this urban myth), Obama’s assessment of this outdated system is spot-on. When the summer vacation took shape centuries ago, it was in-line with the cutting-edge education philosophies of the day that warned against overtaxed minds and overheated classrooms in the summer months. However, as AEI’s director of education policy studies Rick Hess argued in the Washington Post, “It’s time to acknowledge that 19th-century school practices may be a poor fit for many of today’s families. It should be much easier for interested families to find schools that operate into or through the summer.” Indeed, while today’s children of the well-off spend their summers at sleep-away camps or in tutoring sessions, music lessons, and the like, their less fortunate peers are often left spending their unstructured and unsupervised vacations vegging out at home.