Extended School Year Would Have Dire Economic Effects, Critics Say
President Obama's call to extend the academic calendar may bring with it a host of unintended consequences, including increased costs for schools and major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, critics say.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
If the academic year gets pushed deeper into summer, as President Obama is advocating, the grumbling will not be limited just to students and teachers who will be forced to spend more days in school.
Critics say the president's call for a longer academic calendar and a shorter summer vacation will bring on a host of unintended consequences -- including increased costs for school systems, major cuts to the nation's hotel and tourism industries, and a serious blow to summer camp operators.
Obama says kids in the U.S. spend too little time in the classroom, putting them at a disadvantage when competing with students in other countries. The president has suggested that making school days longer and extending the school year will increase learning, raise test scores and close the achievement gap.
But while Obama's proposal is meant to improve education, critics say a curtailed summer vacation will have a dire economic impact on school systems, which could be forced to retrofit their schools for air conditioning, pay overtime to teachers and incur higher utility costs.
They also warn that the leisure industry, which relies on family vacation travel, could take a major hit. "Fewer vacation days will dry up the industry's labor source and lead to huge losses of revenue for American hotels and resorts," said Joe McInerney, president and CEO of the American Hotel and Lodging Association.
"From Memorial Day to Labor day, we hire many high school and college students for summer employment to work," McInerney told FOXNews.com. "If we don't have those people, there will not be enough Americans out there available to fill those positions."
"A lot of different people are affected by cutting out travel," he said. "This is not the right thing to do on a national basis."
In one popular East Coast resort area alone -- the New Jersey shore -- the average cost of a rental home is $1,500 to $2,000 a week, according to realtors. In the tourist town of Wildwood, N.J., approximately 7 million visitors flood the boardwalks, beaches, and restaurants from mid-June to September, spending over $185 million on hotels and prepared food and beverages alone, according to John Siciliano, executive director of the Wildwood Tourism Authority.
Siciliano said that figure does not include dollars spent in stores, on the resort's boardwalk and on its amusement rides, which he said could triple the $185 million -- totaling a whopping $555 million.
If the prime weeks of summer vacation are cut in half because kids have to stay in school, the effects on the industry could be devastating, critics said.
The travel industry has already suffered from a dwindling economy, and a shortened summer vacation may only "add fuel to the fire," said Chris Russo, president of the American Association of Travel Agents.
"We're not making as much money if people are going on a shorter stay," Russo said. But he added that a shorter summer vacation might have an upside: "If families are forced to take shorter breaks, they may book more two- to three-day stays, as opposed to just one seven-week vacation," he said.
And then there's the camp industry -- which for nearly 150 years has served as a summertime rite of passage for many American children. There are approximately 12,000 camps in the U.S., and 11.5 million children and adults attend them each year, according to the American Camp Association. The ACA estimates that the average "sleepaway" camp costs anywhere from $400 to $700 a week. Others go much higher. The cost for a 28-day session at a camp that is a member of ACANE, the American Camp Association New England, runs $5,654.
Scott Shaffer, who runs Shaffer's High Sierra Camp, a family-owned day camp in the Tahoe National Forest, says a cut in summer vacation would likely destroy his business.
High Sierra Camp, which takes children from 8 to 17 and costs $1,100 per week, runs for eight weeks -- beginning the third week in June and ending the last week in August. Shaffer said the camp can operate only during that stretch because of the snow, which melts in May and covers the mountains again in October.
A longer school year "would have a really, really negative impact on our business, especially on the heels of a poor economy," Shaffer said.
Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association, said camps are not necessarily a carefree escape from school. They can be critical to child development, she said, and should be a vital part of the president's year-round education plan.
"Physical, emotion, and social development provide fertile ground for academic learning," Smith said.
"When people walk into a camp they may think, 'Oh, well these kids are just playing. But play is designed to provide teachable moments -- life lessons. And so what may look frivolous to the adult eye is really how children learn."
Obama has brought new attention to the notion of expanding the school year, but it is not a new concept. States have long experimented with year-round education -- with mixed results. Miami-Dade Public Schools in Florida implemented an extended-year program in 2004, but they abandoned the initiative last year after it produced few results. The extended school year also increased teacher pay and energy costs.
But other education experts say Obama is on the right track. Most states set their minimum number of public school days at 180, though some require 175 to 179 days. And "increasing time is correlated with raising achievement," said researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution.
"The more time that kids have on being instructed on academic subjects, the more likely they'll score higher."
The details of Obama's school initiative have been kept close to the vest, and many educators say they'll withhold judgment until a more specific plan is unveiled.
In a statement sent to FOXNews.com, the Florida Department of Education said, "For some time, longer school hours and/or an extended school year has been a heavily debated issue nationally due to the financial implications on individual states. While research shows that students in the United States don't spend as much time in the classroom as their global counterparts, we're interested in further elevating this discussion and all discussions that potentially improve our students' ability to successfully compete internationally."
Officials from the American Federation of Teachers, the United Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association did not reply to requests for comment.