EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


September 1, 2013

Column: Students need year-round school to compete

If there’s one thing we should not be dealing with right now, it’s the back-to-school blues.

As President Barack Obama insists, the biggest problem we face is re-creating the middle class. As thousands of fast-food workers strike across the nation for a living wage, we have to ask why we think we can make economic progress by giving schoolchildren two or three months off each summer.

Other countries do not do this. One of my most vivid memories is seeing dozens of backpack-laden children in Tokyo headed to school at 7:30 on a Saturday morning in the summer.

Pity our poor teachers who spend every September reprogramming children to do their homework, spending hours on remedial lessons and waiting until overtired children readjust to regular bedtimes.

Once, when we were primarily an agricultural nation, giving children summers off made sense. But with summer jobs hard to find and millions of bored children sleeping until noon, playing video games or being shuttled to expensive summer camps by stressed-out parents, long summer holidays are nonsensical.

This nation desperately needs a 12-month school year.

In rural areas, where teenage workers are vital, accommodations could be made by individual school districts. But as a national policy, we are falling behind other countries; our children are no longer the best-educated in the world.

If we are going to embrace economic opportunity for all Americans, we have to take far more seriously the competition our children face from the rest of the world.

The U.S. Department of Education boasts that American fourth-graders’ skills in reading, science and math have improved and that in reading literacy they are surpassed by children in only four other countries. But DOE also admitted last October that “learning gains in fourth grade are not being sustained through eighth grade — where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve between 2007 and 2011.”

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