It’s time for the United States to join the rest of the world. When schools reopen for in-person learning, American children should go to school year-round.
Like daylight saving time, the agrarian school year has passed its prime. As a percentage of the population, few children are needed to help on the farm for three months.
There are fewer summer jobs for teens. Flipping hamburgers increasingly is a job adults fill. Resorts dependent on underpaid teens for grilling and lifeguarding don’t justify insufficient education. Yes, children need a good work ethic, but building businesses on child labor is not a good look for us.
Our children need to learn more in this complicated world, and they get out of the habit of learning and lose momentum over the summer. They need a break, but not for three months. Look how many now are eager to go back to school and their friends.
American children are falling behind their counterparts who go to school on Saturdays and all summer.
American children now rank 38th out of 71 top industrialized countries in scores on tests in mathematics and 24th in science. Twenty years ago American high school and college students were number one in the world in both subjects.
Only 34 percent of U.S.-born American citizens have a four-year college degree. With millions of Americans encumbered with huge debt for those degrees and with millions of parents out of work, it seems likely that percentage will decline except for engineering and science majors.
The only formal education millions of Americans will get is what they learn in grade and high school and maybe trade school. We have a duty to make education as comprehensive as we can.
With education in complete turmoil because of COVID-19, now is the best time to discuss what is wrong with our education system and decide to fix it. Now, with millions of students struggling with inadequate online courses, with others not even able to do that and with most of them unable to continue school until the end of summer, if then, now is when we should plan what comes next. Who knows how virulent the second wave of the coronavirus will be.
Millions of parents would be ecstatic with year-round schools. They would no longer have to scramble during the summer to find affordable activities or day care.
Vacations could be staggered. Camps would have to adjust to different schedules. Perhaps schools and camps could work in tandem. Few families take three-month vacations.
Teacher union opposition could be overcome with planning, if teachers were paid fairly. Professional development shouldn’t take three months.
Many schools in hot summer climates would have to be air conditioned. Low-income children who only get fed at school could eat well for 12 months, not just nine.
While we are at it, high school students should not have to start at 7:30 a.m. They are too tired. Starting later and ending later in the afternoon would mean fewer car accidents, fewer students getting in trouble during long, unsupervised afternoons. Sports would just have to adjust. Elementary school children should start earlier than 9 a.m. Most of them are up and ready to go long before then and their parents need to get to work.
Because of the virus, many educators and policy makers are making plans to extend the school year next year. Some Michigan schools have been experimenting with six-week vacations, down from 10. A school in Virginia hopes to go year-round. And about 5,500 out of 133,000 schools nationwide already are almost year-round.
But states would have to act to make year-round schooling happen and, not surprisingly, lobbyists for special interests would fight it tooth and nail. We have a lot of child exploitation in this country. And educating our children better would cost money, a daunting factor when COVID-19 has massacred state and local budgets.
In America we always say, “Our children are our future.” Do we really believe that?
Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.