By Dave Reid
Ample research has documented the phenomenon of “summer learning loss,” referring to the loss of learning that most students experience over the summer while out of school. Significant research shows that summer learning loss disproportionately impacts low-income students who lose as much as two months of reading achievement while out of school for the summer. This is often explained by low-income students not having the same access to quality summer learning opportunities as their wealthier peers. Meanwhile, almost all students lose valuable math skills over the summer.
Researchers and groups have continuously increased their effort to better understand the effects of summer breaks and what can be done to combat learning loss.
One of these groups, the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) states, “All young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer. Research spanning 100 years shows that students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.”
Impact on Teaching
Teachers often bear the brunt of trying to off-set this summer learning loss. Students who need to be refreshed on what they learned the previous year requires teachers to take time away from their curriculum to review what students should already know. Results of a survey given by NSLA indicate 66% of teachers take at least 3-4 weeks to re-teach previous skills at the beginning of a new school year. Of that 66%, more than 33% say they take more than five weeks in order to make sure students are caught up and will be prepared to learn and succeed with the new year’s curriculum.
This re-teaching eats away at an already jammed packed schedule of what teachers are supposed to teach students during the school year.
What can be done?
There are many suggested solutions to combat summer learning loss. Two of the most popular and commonly discussed solutions are: (1) modifying/lengthening the school year and (2) summer learning programs.
The idea behind extending the school year is students will have less of a summer break and therefore will not suffer as drastically from summer learning loss. Other people have suggested it is best to modify the school year, where students are given several shorter breaks throughout the school year, instead of one long three month break over the summer.
Summer learning programs are a common solution suggested to off-set these learning losses. These programs can look very different and can focus on a variety of learning objectives. Researchers as well as teachers strongly believe that students who participate in some type of summer learning program will enter fall in a better position to succeed. An NSLA survey shows 77% of teachers believe students who participate in summer learning programs are better prepared to succeed in the next school year in the fall.
High-Quality Summer Learning
Providing students with summer learning opportunities is one potential solution to learning loss during the vacation months, but there are many challenges to providing a high-quality summer learning experiences.
First, many places find it difficult to staff summer learning programs with high-quality educators, as these positions are typically paid hourly, which does not provide the same level of compensation as a regular 9 or 10 month teaching contract. In other words, teachers must effectively take a cut in pay to teach during the summer. In addition, many teachers look forward to a well-deserved break to recharge their batteries or plan for the next school year.
Additionally, administrators speak of challenges as far as finding a place for summer learning, as schools are typically cleaned and re-modeled during the long summer break. Finally, while many parents like the idea of having their child enrolled in summer learning programs, many parents also believe their children deserve a break, and attendance at these summer programs is often sporadic.
At the same time, there are many benefits to summer programs. For example, many districts allow teachers to take on a supervisory role during the summer months, providing teachers with valuable managerial and leadership experiences. Also, because these programs do not have to focus on test-prep, reading, and math, teachers can more deeply engage in material that is often neglected during the regular school year, such as science, social studies, and the arts.
The importance of high-quality teaching is needed throughout the entire year, including the summer months. There should be a focus by district and school leaders as well as policy makers to make sure students have access to high-quality learning opportunities throughout the calendar year.
Contact Dave: firstname.lastname@example.org