Back to school: How soon is too soon?
August 3rd, 2012
06:11 AM ET

Back to school: How soon is too soon?

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – When do your kids go back to school?  School start dates are about as varied as the styles and colors of backpacks you find at local retailers.

The federal government doesn’t mandate the number of days in a school year, but most states require about 180.  How those days work into the calendar is usually set by local school boards.

For example, in Cherokee County, Georgia, students went back to school on August 1 this year.  Yes, you read that right, the first day of August.

And while students in other districts around the U.S. return on various dates this month – August 13 and 27 seem to be popular – many, like Virginia Beach, Virginia students, return on September 4, the day after Labor Day.

New York City schools will be back in session on September 6.

Still others wait until the following Monday, September 10 to start the new school year.

Then there are the year-round schools like those in Durham, North Carolina that take long breaks throughout the year but no real “summer” as most kids know it.  Durham started the school year on July 16 and will end it on June 7, 2013.

Oklahoma City piloted a year-round program in seven schools and will shift to year round for all its city’s schools this year.

The debate rages on among supporters of three types of school calendars: the year-round calendar, the “balanced calendar” – a school year with an earlier start date and longer breaks – and the “traditional calendar” with a start date after Labor Day.

Opponents of year-round schools and balanced calendars – “school calendar reconfiguration,” as some call it - argue that the longer school years rob kids of summers and put financial strains on school systems.

Proponents of year-round and balanced calendars say that the traditional model of the school year is based on the agrarian needs of the 19th century. They argue that the balanced and year-round approaches present more time for learning and better retention of the skills needed in the 21st Century.

Academically speaking, do balanced or year-round calendars work?  Education Week notes that “research that attempts to measure the influence of year-round education on student achievement is inconclusive and contradictory.”

Sometimes, school systems move to a balanced calendar as a step toward year round school, or in an attempt to address declining test scores.  According to the Deseret News, after a trial period of a year-round calendar in 2010, Salt Lake City Schools saw that only half of their year-round elementary schools made AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) in 2010, whereas 80% of the traditional calendar schools did.

On the other side: Some researchers have found that balanced or year-round school calendars do benefit students with academic problems and those believed to be “at risk."

Parents are caught in the middle of it all, scrambling for child care during weeks when there is no school, or lamenting the loss of traditional family summer vacation time when the kids have to be back in school before Labor Day.

But some parents welcome year-round and balanced school calendars. They say there’s less classroom time spent reviewing learned concepts because there’s no summer “brain drain.” They also say they don’t have to contend with kids getting bored two months into the summer.

So what do you think?  When should the school year begin?  What’s best for our kids?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Filed under: At Home • Issues • Parents • Policy
soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. Texas Teacher82

    Good reason to extend the school year.

    Day care for your kids!! Holy Crap. America is going down the tubes. Fast. Woo Hoo.. LOL!!

    August 11, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
  2. teacher k

    I ama teacher who believes that long summer vacations are not good for students in general. The routines have to be reestablished and reviw is endless. Most students do not spend the time off productively. I have friends and family in many different states with just as many calendar configurations. All have their merits as well as their draw backs. My cousin is abusiness man who pointed out to me a very interesting perspective a few years back. One thing that many people do forget is that businesses do rely on somewhat traditional school calendars for financial reaons. For retail stores back-to-school is usually second only to holiday time. If anyone has ver tried to vacation from about mid-Jun until mid-Aug you will notice resorts, cruises etc have these as peek rate times, again it is how they make money. So to say that teachers are preventing year-round school which a few people here have isn't the whole story. Yes, some teachers do push for summers off but there are many of us who would wecome a change.

    August 11, 2012 at 2:10 pm |
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    August 10, 2012 at 8:27 am |
  4. Ortho Stice

    To add a practical point here: many schools, particularly those in impoverished urban and rural areas, do not have air conditioning. It's one thing to ask kids and teachers to sweat through four hours of summer school in 90-100 degree heat; it is quite another to ask them to do so for eight hours of classes and extracurriculars in midsummer heat. If all schools were air-conditioned, I would have no problem with full-year school.

    August 10, 2012 at 3:15 am |
  5. Ashley

    I'm amused by some of the parents defending long summers here saying "kids need to be kids." What does that even mean? This is a load of BS and what is wrong with the American parenting style today. Kids can't be kids while learning at school? Kids want to be challenged. You do realize than in 20 years, your kids will be unemployed unless they learn to compete with the kids in China and India? Summer break was a relic of 100 years ago when children were needed to work the land. Nowadays summer break is nothing more than a burden for most working parents and a huge lapse in learning for kids, especially the ones in the bottom and the middle. Only the most fortunate of children spend their summers tutoring, going to camps and classes. 75%+ of them sit at home, unsupervised, playing video games.

    August 9, 2012 at 8:59 pm |
  6. Shavon

    I got it! Let's do year round school. I love the idea. I'm a student and I get bored a week into summer, I want to continue learning. How about we take learning outside. Don't teach the kids science, show it to them. But, for that we need more money in the education system.........

    August 9, 2012 at 3:33 pm |
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    August 8, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  8. Mom of 2

    The only way I would support a year-round school is with a MAJOR change in curriculum. The kids don't need more time in school, they their time in school to be better spent. Schools need to get back to eduation and leave the social services and parenting to the organizations designed to handle those things and to the parents–and parents, it's time to step up and lead your kids. I'm tired of my kids not being challenged because we're teaching to the lowest common denominator and focused on passing a test. Personally, I I like the longer summer–it is much easier to find one long-term day care solution that 3-4 short ones. Also, the longer summer allows them to pursue interests that we have little time for during the school year. Experiences, including Camp, help our kids learn who they are and what they can do. Yes, I know someone will reply with "everyone can't afford that." I'm not rich...far from it. I'll leave it at that.

    August 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm |
    • ajbuff

      Agreed. School is an endless round of cramming and testing and cramming more for these kids. Of learning information without connection. Of sitting for hours a day in uncomfortable desks made for students half their height . Of sitting in crowded rooms with no air and sick classmates. They need a chunk of time to do other things, experience the world, work, pursue interests, and get outside and get exercise! To stand up for awhile, manage their own time, learn something new, etc. And with global warming upon us and no air-conditioning in schools, sitting in crowded rooms in sweltering heat will just be horrific.

      August 9, 2012 at 11:23 am |
    • Texas Teacher82

      Thank you Mom of 2.

      Poor things.. Why do you want to torture them with more worksheets and standardized testing. Please.. Use your summer to get your kids reading, swimming, going to museums, visiting Barcelona...

      You get it.... Thank YOU!!

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    August 6, 2012 at 5:55 pm |
  10. gatorgirl

    I find it funny that opponents of the year round school calendar say that it robs the children of their summers. I teach at a year round school. 99% of the students, when asked, will tell you that they spent summer "doing nothing". I will then say nothing? The extended response,"Well, I watched TV, played video games, and mom sent me to the lame camp." 99% say they WANTED to be back at school. My kids come back after 6 weeks off. They are fresher, still remember things from last year, and there is less time at the beginning of the year having to do reviews of rituals and routines. With all the testing that the government makes us do, these kids need to be in school.

    August 6, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
  11. Serious Person

    The truth of the matter is school days have gotten shorter and less productive. Kids start the day later and get out earlier. The teachers have so many "planning hours" and vacation days, I'm a little shocked. My teachers growing up rarely missed any days, my kids have subs all the time, often for days at a time. Year round school would never fly in most places because many teachers only teach to have their summers off. Teacher's unions all want more time off, not more time working. The best thing this country could do for education is reward the good teachers that actually want to teach, and weed out the lazy/bad ones. YES, there are lazy/bad teachers. Can we ALL drop the PC notions that you can't say anything bad about teachers and work on getting the bad ones out? The school year calendar has nothing to do with what's best for the kids, it has to do with what you can get the teachers to work and most don't want to. FYI, I'm a teacher.

    August 6, 2012 at 10:25 am |
  12. Portland tony

    It sure made sense to have long summer vacations, when kids could work in the rural community harvesting hay for six weeks and playing with friends until school started. Loading bails of hay at 10¢ each made a man out of ya...but those times have past. If your folks can send you to camp...great! But the majority of kids just run around unsupervised all summer. Stupid? Got to be a better way!

    August 5, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
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    August 5, 2012 at 6:31 am |
  15. Guest

    School is like jail in the sense that you dont learn anything while you're there,but they get money for you being there and just make you feel worse for being there

    August 5, 2012 at 12:43 am |
  16. jake

    Summer breaks are time for kids to learn new things and not be locked into the schedule dictated by the school district. If kids are returning to school dumber than they left- that's the parents' fault, not the school's. Kids need to have enrichment outside of school. Parents need to take a more active roll in their children's education. Some of my best memories of childhood were the summers my dad and I drove around to see all the civil war battlefields. There are many things in life you can't learn from a book or learn in a classroom.

    I'm all for a long summer break. This helps parents plan vacations and allows teachers to get a summer job.

    August 4, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
    • Portland tony

      Just remember, not all parents have the luxury of a summer vacation. Even less in these depressed economic times. And even if they do, with both parents working, sometimes it's hard to coordinate specific time off.

      August 5, 2012 at 3:09 pm |
  17. Kate

    As the mother of two, whose district had a trial run at the year-round system, I found the experience completely unworkable. In the end we moved to another district with a traditional calendar. The breaks came at awkward times, useless for visiting family and friends. Childcare was impossible to find and any attempt to schedule camps, travel or just plain down time was rigorous to say the least.

    The hardest part of the schedule was that just as we got into a "school" routine, it would be disrupted into a "vacation" routine, and vise versa. Plus I found the short breaks too short for the kids to relax and be kids. In the end my kids were burned out and spent the entire break trying to recover from the condensed learning periods which only seemed to jam more work into a shorter time.

    Kids now seem to have such a short time to just be kids, and whose says a little bit of 'boredom' at the end of summer is a bad thing. By the time school starts for my kids they are refreshed, relaxed and READY to go back to school to resume friendships and are ready to learn. They will grow up and have no beaks soon enough. I am glad my kids are able to enjoy a prolonged period of freedom a summer vacation provides. Enough time to be bored enough to explore their own imaginations and let what they learned the year before coalesce into original thought and insight. And just be kids, rather than miniature adults.

    August 3, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
    • Common sense

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      August 4, 2012 at 9:10 am |
    • Merb

      The problem is that although your children are refreshed, they are far dumber for their summer break. They are so far behind the rest of the world. If instead we kept them in the school system year round and found ways to help them relax at home, then they would be far better off in the long run. They might be relaxed now, but when they are having to compete globally they will be stressed more than you can imagine.

      August 4, 2012 at 10:46 am |
      • Michael

        I attended schools that followed the "traditional" pattern of letting out around Memorial Day and returning around Labor Day. I never felt that I returned to school dumber than I left. Granted, I had parents that took great interest in my education and great joy in vacationing together, whether it be in the Rockies or a week or two on a lake. Kids need down time; teachers need down time; parents need quality time with the kids ... if that is at all possible. Nope, I'm not a fan of year round schools AT ALL ...

        August 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  18. Lynn

    As school summer breaks became shorter, my kids missed opportunities to go to camps, get summer jobs and have time to visit family and friends. When I divorced, I only had the kids for 1/2 of the summer and it was hard to squeeze in a vacation, c hurch and/or music camps and just down time spent at home. Some great summer camps in our area suffered, as well as some summer venues suck as nearby water parks.

    August 3, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  19. raen2056

    When I was in high school and junior high here in Chandler, Arizona, we had a reformed year-round schedule that ended in June and started in July. The supposed reason for this was that summers in AZ are so hot that it made more sense to have longer breaks in fall, winter, and spring when going outside was possible. While I understood that logic, I hated the reformed calendar. Every summer camp in the Valley was set up for a school schedule which ended in late May and started after Labor Day and they wouldn't allow you to join for only the center weeks of camp. This meant that instead of going to science or taekwondo camps which I would have loved, I spent most of the summers completely alone and indoors reading. As much as I love reading, I would have preferred the social and educational aspects of camp.

    August 3, 2012 at 1:37 pm |
  20. Wendy

    As a mother of four children, I would support a balanced calendar. I am a working mom, and when my kids were little, it was expensive and inconvenient in the summer to have them in full-time daycare or summer camp programs. Having longer breaks (2-3 weeks instead of 1) would give more options for travel to visit family at holidays or to take family vacations. Also, I would support longer school days, providing that the school day begins later than 8 a.m. and ends by 4 p.m. I think making teenaged kids get up at 5 a.m. to catch a bus at 6:40 a.m. is ridiculous; teens need as much if not more sleep than elementary-school-aged kids! Now that we are no longer an agricultural society, we don't need to give our kids the entire summers off so that they can help to harvest our food. While we're at it, let's stop using Daylight Savings Time, too.

    August 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
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      August 6, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • Texas Teacher82


      LOL.. With a little tweaking, this could be a satirical article for "The Onion."

      LOL.. Oh my goodness! You have made my day! Too cute! Funny!

      August 11, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
  21. Denise

    I notice this article keeps mentioning Labor Day as the marker for the traditional calendar. I've only ever attended or taught using a traditional calendar, and we were always in school in August. I just wanted to point that out because the inaccuracy is a bit distracting.

    To the original question about which calendar is best, as a teacher, balanced calendars do the best at minimizing burnout. I think this is true for some students as well. It is important to take the complexities of the students' home environments into account when asking about the calendar. For instance, a student who is likely to spend all summer traveling, attending educational or artistic camps, etc. will benefit from an extended summer. A student who does not have access to extracurricular activities will fair better on a more balanced schedule.

    In terms of parents scrambling for child care, etc., when whole districts adopt balanced calendars, it becomes a moot point. As a structural change, other structures appear in support of that change. When there is a need for care during intersessions, it becomes available. But this is only true to the extent there's a critical mass. When there's just one or two schools piloting, it's a hassle.

    August 3, 2012 at 6:32 am |