Over at the National Review, Reihan Salam
has an interesting attack on the conventional narrative of summer vacations. We've often heard how the extended summer vacation enjoyed by students is a relic of an agricultural economy, in which students needed those months off to help their parents with the harvest. Hence the obvious solution to summer learning loss
: extend the school year.
Salam argues that summer vacation came about for very different reasons, reasons that are still in force and would push back against the proposed solutions of simply extending the school year. Citing the work of economist William Fischel, he writes “ the real reason for summer school vacations is that they serve as a coordinating mechanism that can facilitate and accommodate both graded schooling and geographical mobility.” In order to ensure that students across the country will all be on the same page (a necessity if they're going to be moving around from school to school), we have to have one standardized school year across the country.
For historical reasons, this happens to begin in September and end in June, but the important point is that it's a universal date. This means, Reihan claims, that “Even if a majority of parents would benefit from a longer school day… a vocal minority might balk, and the universe of providers of supplementary educational services might also resist the change. And an extended school day in some but not all jurisdictions would introduce… coordination problems for graded schooling.”
His preferred solution is a targeted program of summer opportunity scholarships for those students most vulnerable to summer learning loss. Whatever the response, it appears that to meet this issue, as with many others in the field of education, what is required are more tailored and individualized solutions, rather than blanket reforms.