Every summer there is a legislative push to lengthen the public school year in the United States. Education is an area in which the United States lags behind many of its counterparts, and many legislators attribute that to length of the school year.
President Obama has repeatedly called for a longer school year, arguing that countries such as Korea have school years of up to 220 days (compared to 180 in the US). “That month makes a difference. It means students are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer … The idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense,” Obama said. “Now, that’s going to cost some money… but I think that would be money well spent.” The President acknowledges that money in and of itself is not the solution to the problem, but it is certainly necessary: “We can’t spend our way out of it … money without reform will not fix the problem.” The President is clearly aware that the budget is the root of the education debate in America.
Research done by the Rand Corporation suggests that longer summers negatively affect low-income students more than their peers due to a lack of access to educational programs during that time. Because of this, many Congressional Democrats agree with the President on the issue of lengthening the school year. Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, argue that this will be doing exactly what the President claimed he was trying to avoid: throwing more money at the problem.
Although many experts agree that a shorter school year is the reason for the US lagging behind other countries in education, extending the school year would not be simple. In order to avoid spending more money – Congress’ main concern – public schools in the US would have to increase class size by 3.3 students if the school year were to be extended 30 days, according to Matthew Chingos of the Brookings Institution. This is something Congressional Democrats should consider before advocating for a shorter summer, as they have repeatedly vowed to decrease class sizes in order to improve student performance.
Furthermore, there are many summer opportunities for students to improve their education outside of the classroom, such as camps, jobs, internships, and community service, which benefit children in a way that cannot be matched in the classroom. These chances could be lost if the school year was extended, thereby decreasing the chances for students to become more well rounded, active members of society.
The battle between Congressional Democrats and Republicans over performance versus the budget only captures a small segment of the debate surrounding a shortened summer for US public schools. While students around the country would surely be upset if they had fewer days of freedom in the warm months of summer, more days of school could benefit American students in the long run, potentially allowing them to catch up to their international peers.