Friday, September 2, 2011

Education: How Summer Vacations Reinforce Performance Failure Conditioning

Even though the American economy has not been agrian based for at least 75 years, American children are still benefiting (?) from an agrian school structure. Young children still have summers off and spend on average 180 to 185 days in school. FACT: Many of these days are not full instructional days and today's students spend less time in the classroom than students of 50 or 100 years ago.

Schools are facing mandates to offer academic remediation during the summer and some parents are quite upset. This intrusion into summer vacation is viewed as denying a "right." Unfortunately, this outdated practice is only reinforcing performance failure conditioning.

When the U.S. was an agrian-based economy, being out of school during the summer was to assist the family farms. Children helped from plowing the fields to canning the produce. Summer break was a break from school and not a break from work.

Technology improvements from equipment to biochemistry has made farming far more efficient and additional manual child labor was no longer needed. Yet, summer break still remained through the industrial revolution and into the technology revolution. Children and families became conditioned to expect this time off from school and more importantly from learning.

Since information is doubling every year, today's young people need to know and learn more, not less. Losing 2.5 to 3 months each year for 12 years is only reinforcing performance failure conditioning. Educational psychologists know that students who are cognitively behind do not lose just 2.5 months each summer, but rather the loss multiplies or is exponential. This loss helps to explain why our students are not making the literacy gains necessary to be knowledge workers.

Additionally, there are several other factors why summer vacation reinforces performance failure. As a former teacher, I can personally attest that many young people begin to "shut down" after Easter or spring break because they have been conditioned to view summer vacation on the horizon. Given that our children need every minute to be engaged in the learning process, losing 4 to 6 weeks is not acceptable.

Also, with some parents not having the ability to take summer vacations due to their work commitments, these parents remove children from school for 1 to 2 weeks. In the mid-20th century, many parents would not even think about removing their children for a non-summer vacation. Even though the children are completing assignments during this time, they are losing the value of informal learning. Research suggests that up to 70% of all learning is gained informally - learning from one another.

The extended break from summer vacation also harms long term cognitive retention. Concepts that are taught shortly before the end of school may need to be re-taught in the fall because students lack the opportunities necessary for reinforcement and application. One direct outcome is the "teach to the test" behavior. Teachers must now hurriedly re-teach these previously learned objectives because these are the foundation for new concepts.

Learning is very much like a brick wall. Each row of bricks supports the next layer. When a row is missing just one or even several bricks, the entire wall is weakened and may eventually collapse. Again, our national results regarding educational performance demonstrate that we have many falling walls.

The American public education system needs to be restructured to face the 21st century. No one looks good in a bad system. We must face the reality that learning for our children must be more than 180 days and must be structured to support known cognitive research such as shorter and more frequent breaks. The archaic practice of summer vacation will only continue to reinforce performance failure conditioning and leave all of our children and our country behind.

Leanne Hoagland-Smith, President of ADVANCED SYSTEMS, works with large urban to private schools, certified staff, support staff, students and parents to improve performance in 30 to 180 days. Using proven tools, we can quickly and affordably identify the gaps in YOUR organization, provide you with an Action Plan that you can easily implement along with developmental programs from executive leadership to student leadership.

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