Longer school year worth study

May 31, 2011


In a matter of weeks, 16 million high schools students will be on summer vacation. Many will be looking for work. But this is a difficult time to be a teenager. Of those seeking employment, only one in four is expected to find a job.

Why the especially grim outlook?

The economic recovery has been slow. Federal and state governments have not provided funding for teen jobs as they have in the past. The private sector sees fewer jobs than last year’s status quo. And with national unemployment at 9 percent, teens are competing with out-of-work adults.

The result: Summer employment figures have dipped sharply in the last decade. According to Northwestern University’s Center for Market Studies, 27 percent of teens will have a job during the months of June, July and August. In the summer of 2000, the number was 40 percent. Last summer we reached the lowest teen employment rate since World War II, and the summer of 2011 could be even worse.

“Our students are caught in a troubling situation because of the shortage of summer jobs” warns Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board. “The overwhelming majority can’t earn money for college and they can’t gain work experience. This has to be very discouraging to our young folks, particularly those most in need. It sends the wrong messages about the importance of work.”

If there is a consolation from this bleak scenario it is that we are being forced to reconsider how students spend their summers.

American students annually have fewer school days than students from many other nations. We have 180 days in school. Finland has 190. The Netherlands has 200. South Korea has 220. Japan has 243. This partly explains why our students do not do well on international comparisons of education.

Extending the school year has long been part of conversations about improving education. In the 1980s after the National Commission on Education Excellence’s report, “A Nation at Risk,” 37 states entertained legislation to increase the amount of time their students spent in school. In the late 1990s, 14 states considered bills. But no action was taken. “It would have been a smart thing to do,” Caperton says. “It still is.”

President Obama has said that this generation of students can only remain competitive with their international peers as adults if they start spending more time in school. He has proposed that American school children extend their time in class, either by lengthening the school day, or spending less time on summer vacation. Many educators agree that this is a sound policy.

In a tight-fisted Congress and state legislative bodies, this idea will receive little support even though many legislators have similar thoughts. But others, including representatives of business and industry, see the proposal as sound and needed if we are truly committed to having a competitive edge on the global front.


Think long-term about our nation and its students. All levels of government should find ways to increase summer work opportunities for the young (there is plenty to do and the price is right) and it is time for responsible minds to revisit and act on the crying need for an extended school year, one that will increase critical competitiveness in the U.S.

Gene Budig is the former president/chancellor of three major state universities (Illinois State University, West Virginia University, and Kansas University) and Heaps is a vice president at the College Board in New York.


Paul R Getto 6 years, 10 months ago

One of the dumbest things ever invented is the 'school year.' Back when schooling lasted just a few weeks and kids were needed 'on the farm' there may have been a justification. There is no particular reason to continue it, but "Tradition." The schools should be open 5 1/2 days a week, 10 or more hours a day all year long, closing only on bank holidays. Would all the teachers and all the students be in the building all those hours? No, but the service should be available. Another option: 45-15, with a two week break after each nine weeks and a shorter summer. Teachers who want more money can teach more days; students who meet academic standards could have vacations, enrichment activities or school trips. Students who don't meet academic standards could be given more time to learn.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

Let's instead revise how school is taught to make better use of public education resources.

We must always keep in mind this plan takes into consideration that too many parents may be too busy with work or simply may not have the background to assist their children with homework. Still we do not want brilliant minds to wander away.

Empower the students! How To Get More Substance Out of our Education systems.

*School hours: 9:30 AM - 4:30 PM(more sleep) Eliminates public school traffic from the morning rush hour. If students need dropped off a bit early perhaps lab work,art projects,wood working or exercise could be scheduled.

Exercise = power walk,swimming,cycling/elliptical or aerobics everyday = good for weight control and brain cells by way of low impact exercise.

The objective in fact is to empower the student, feed comprehension, improve testing based on learning, to be productive in addition creating a less stressful environment yet more interesting.

Being able to devote whole days to home work and exercise during the school week surely could be beneficial.

Is there necessarily any need for students to be in class per se 5 days a week? Good question. How about 3 days in class and 2 days at school doing "homework"?

Thinking outside the box - Beginning at the Junior High Level

Let's talk 3 days in class and two days to read, do written homework,lab, etc etc and exercise at school:

*The two days could be done in the classroom and/or study sessions. Students report to the same homeroom each day. Yes the the teaching staff would still be at school 5 days a week.

  • Not only would they be doing themselves some benefit but also be there for students who have questions and/or need assistance with homework = beneficial "class time".

*The school library would be open everyday for research.

*This suggested new scheduling would be preparing students for the college and/or Vo-Tech daily routine.

Public school is a best bang for the tax buck!

Paul's thinking about students at above average academic standards could be eligible for hours off is smart thinking.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

Break up the school year into 3 semesters with 5 school days off between semesters. Plus 5 school days off for Thanksgiving and 5 school days for Christmas

If parents wanted more time off for their students simply make arrangements with teaching staff for homework.

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