The U.S. seems to be moving inexorably toward a year-round school year, much like the foreign countries that continually outperform us in math and science studies.
“Summer school” for a long time had an unfortunate connotation. The students who attended it mostly did so because they had failed a required course during the regular academic year, while the teachers were there for the extra money, not because they liked teaching in hot weather.
The U.S. school year is something of an anachronism anyway, designed around the rhythms of an agricultural society and perpetuated in part by state laws designed to ensure a supply of youthful labor for amusement parks, resorts and summer camps.
But as the government takes a greater interest in student performance in science, technology and math and the elite colleges grow ever more competitive, summer is not just for lying around the pool anymore.
In reporting on the increasing trend of high-school students to go back to school in summer, The Associated Press wrote, “Some studies suggest students lose as much as two months of knowledge over the summer.”
Pam Allyn, executive director of LitWorld, a literacy nonprofit, told AP, “There’s been all this work done and investment made over the last nine months and then that investment stops. For every kid – no matter where they live – out-of-school time is really problematic.”
The demands by state and federal governments for increased testing in a limited number of subjects during the regular school year, and the penalties for poor test results, make summer an ideal time for educational experimentation without the fear of punitive consequences.
The freedom has resulted in innovative summer programs in a dozen or more major cities that feature field trips, music, science experiments, guest speakers, cooking, offbeat reading lists – programs that, in short, downplay the fact that the students are actually learning.
Even the dreaded words “summer school” are being eased out of the lexicon. The students are encouraged to think of it as “summer enrichment.”