Is Our School Calendar All Wrong?

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Kids are just starting to go back to school from summer break, and some students will be in school even longer.

This year, five states have added about 300 hours of school time, with funding from federal and local governments and foundations.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a big supporter of the effort and says more time in school will keep American students competitive.

Lots of teachers will tell you there's actually less fatigue when you have shorter, more frequent breaks.

Harris Cooper

Harris Cooper is a professor of education and psychology at Duke University who's been researching school schedules for decades.

He says getting out at 3 o'clock and having long summer vacation is not good for today's kids. Instead, he suggests kids go to school for 40 weeks a year, in four sessions of 10 weeks, with three two-week intersessions in the fall, winter and spring, and a six-week summer break.

"In many ways that's best for kids and it's best for families," Cooper told Here & Now. "Most kids are growing up in families where there may be one parent or both parents work outside the home, so their mom and dad have to figure out what to do with them over the summer — how to make their summer both enjoyable and constructive."

Most students experience some learning loss over the long summer break, Cooper said.

"The more frequent but shorter breaks will lead to less learning loss and therefore teachers won't have to spend as much time reviewing material when kids come back to school," said Cooper. "With regards to fatigue, lots of teachers will tell you there's actually less fatigue when you have shorter, more frequent breaks."

In terms of school hours, Cooper suggests something more similar to the work day, to be more conducive to parents' schedules. Those extra hours benefit the kids, too, as long as the additional hours are of "high quality," Cooper said.

Cooper acknowledges that extending school hours and the school year is expensive. But he argues that some of the cost will be offset by the savings on after-school and summertime child care and programs.


  • Harris Cooper, professor of education and chair & professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

This segment aired on August 26, 2013.


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