Throughout my childhood August was the final month of summer, a time for the family vacation, the dogs days filled with the
building of final summer memories before the return to school. I’ll never get used to the southern schedule my kids have faced, with an August return to school. This year, local Atlanta-area schools begin today, August 9, the earliest I can recall. There is something terribly wrong spending about early August in a schoolhouse. Our oldest, Mariah, graduated from high school last year; and our two little ones haven’t started school yet. Only Michael sets foot in a school today.
And the whole family’s plans are effected by school schedules. It is just that the schedule shifts from north to south, with an earlier start and an earlier completion of the school year. Summer vacation used to be 12 weeks; now it is closer to 8.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution says the Georgia legislature perennially introduces a bill to require a uniform late-August starting date for Georgia schools, and it is perennially voted down. North Carolina, Florida and Texas have all passed similar bills.
“We’re not trying to harm the summer recreation industry,” said Charles Ballinger, executive director emeritus of the San Diego-based National Association for Year-Round Education, which promotes a shorter summer. Parents, he suggests, can spend their summer dollars in eight weeks as well as in 12.
Kelly Henson, executive secretary of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission, said that long-summer boosters should focus on education, not heat: “The fact that it’s a bit hot, or that it might interfere with premier league baseball; none of that trumps the idea that a child ought to get a quality education.”
Summer defenders say there is little evidence of improved academic performance as a result of an early return to school.
“Any research done has shown no appreciable positive impact,” said Yankee dad Chris Murphy, “and not everything a kid needs to learn is in school.”
My sad conclusion is that emphasis has shifted away from the importance of rich family experiences, including a three month summer vacation, and toward the preeminence of parental work and classroom time. If parents were truly up in arms about shorter summers, legislatures across the country would be putting in place ironclad prohibitions against long school years and the travesty of early August starts. When family time is a burden and kids are a nuisance rather than part of the fabric of family adventure, and when societal expectations create the necessity for two-income families and summer vacation means more daycare not more time together–then extending school years at the expense of summer vacation is a logical consequence.