George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Summer learning loss is a well-documented phenomenon, with students losing between one and two months' worth of academic knowledge each summer. And low-income students suffer a steeper rate of loss than their peers - half of the achievement gap seen in reading can be attributed to summer loss. (There is one area in which students get ahead during the summer: They gain weight two or three times faster during the summer months than during the school year.)

Across the nation, schools, districts and states are trying to address the challenges posed by summer vacation. One seemingly obvious solution is a move to year-round schooling. Some communities are attempting it, but there are a number of reasons (public opinion and budget among them) that many others are avoiding it.

Another seemingly obvious solution: Summer school. Research compiled by the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) shows that nearly 75 percent of public schools offer academic assistance during the summer, mainly for remedial purposes. But participation in these programs is only six to 30 percent of district enrollment, and some evidence suggests that is because parents do not want their children in summer programs that mimic instruction during the school year, preferring programs that offer a broader range of activities.

Summer school is also facing enormous financial challenges. A recent survey by the American Association of School Administrators on the economic impact of the recession on schools shows that 22.3 percent of respondents (school administrators) eliminated summer school programs in 2011?12, and 29 percent are considering it for 2012?13. In addition, 28.8 percent of respondents eliminated extracurricular activities in 2010?11, with 40.7 percent considering it for 2012?13, suggesting that most districts won't be broadening the activity base of their summer programs any time soon.

Until more resources are available, schools and districts alone are never going to be able to adequately address summer learning loss.

What Individuals Can Do

Individuals can certainly do their part. Teachers can pass out summer reading lists (such lists are available online for students of all ages, as well as targeted towards specific audiences like teens) and send out journaling assignments. And parents play a key role in keeping their children learning over the summer. The National PTA offers suggestions for summer activities that encourage learning, such as setting up a nature scavenger hunt and touring local manufacturing plants, as well as prompts to help children keep a summer journal and resources to help them eat healthy and keep active.

What Communities Can Do

To more systemically address the issue of summer learning loss, it needs to be recognized by the community as a problem that they need to work with the schools to solve. In both a recent RAND report examining how to make the most out of summer and a NASBE discussion guide presenting a new vision for supporting students in summer learning, a key idea emerged: The role of community partnerships.

Children are always somewhere during the summer -- day care, day camp, overnight camp, or elsewhere. By partnering with the institutions already serving students during the summer and aligning their programming with academic goals, schools and districts can have a big impact on summer learning loss without the costs associated with running their own programs.

At the Coalition for Community Schools' 2012 National Forum, I learned of one such partnership. The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati has long offered summer camps and childcare. But in recent years, they realized they could do more to help participants develop and strengthen academic and wellness skills. They have since transformed their summer program, combining camp traditions with academically aligned curricula to create engaging, learning-intensive summer programs.

In doing so, they partnered with the Cincinnati Public Schools, a local children's hospital and others to help develop a strategy that supports school goals. Last year, in addition to swimming and other common camp activities, their program included:

  • DEAR: Drop Everything And Read -- a simple, low-to-no-cost program that involved students keeping a book with them at all times and, no matter where they were (the cafeteria, the volleyball court, and so on), when it was time, stopping what they were doing to read
  • Curricular activities -- a combination of free tools (including those available from CincyAfterSchools that align with the district's academic plan) and purchased curriculum
  • "Let's Move It!" -- a pilot program in which students tracked their water consumption, recorded their daily physical activity, participated in taste tests (ultimately exposing them to more than 52 fruits and vegetables), and learned how to make healthy choices about food
  • Other health and wellness supports -- active games, physical fitness, a no smoking campaign, and nutrition activities

While these specific activities won't work for every summer camp or child care situation, the broader notion -- that community organizations have a role to play in addressing summer learning loss -- is important to consider. Schools can't do it alone.

Was this useful?

Comments (14) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Valencia Jackson's picture
Valencia Jackson
Fourth grade teacher from Waynesboro, GA

In this modern - day, technology driven society, we often forget practices of our ancestors. We need to remember the old saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." When the school term comes to a close, the community needs to make an effort to engage our children in some type of activity on a regular basis. Our social organizations, business leaders, community leaders, and churches now have an opportunity to lend a helping hand. Most parents have to work throughout the summer months, leaving their children to be placed in day campes, day care centers, babysitters, and/or with relatives. Just as many communities have summer nutrition programs, the many organizations can provide summer educational programs. The programs do not have to be daily, but they need to be regular enough so that our children's minds do not become idle. The activities should be engaging, and present opportunities for student to learn in a non - traditional, exciting way.

MBaker's picture

I appreciate the emphasis on the community getting involved with students during the summer. After all, it is the community that is putting on programs for these students, why not include some learning. If we can help students continue to learn in a different, new learning way, let's help them. I am encouraged by the program in Cincinnati and hope that it is happening in other cities as well.

Julie Goodwine's picture

I love the idea of schools parterning with other institutions in the community to provide more of the things our students need, and making learning fun at the same time. I think this would attract more students and parents than regular summer school and help prevent some of the summer loss of learning. We need more programs the kids actually want to participate in rather than having teachers send things home that just wind up in the garbage. In the past, I have sent home reading lists, packets, reading passages, etc... for the students to do over the summer, but very few students even bothered to look at what I sent home, and probably a lot of it never made it home in the first place.

Artsology's picture
A web site offering free arts and music-related games and investigations

My website offers free arts and music related games and "investigations" - the idea, or rather my hope is to have the games act as a gateway into the arts, and that after playing the games, the kids will be interested to learn more about the artists.

Prodigy Game's picture

There are many great games out there that take advantage of their ability to engage children by providing learning environments that kids voluntarily participate in. We have designed a math learning software tool that is not only personalized to each individual, but is also incredibly fun for kids. Results have shown a 20% average increase in skill level over 4 weeks.

Why not prevent summer brain drain by signing up for a free trial account here.

Thomas Stanley's picture
Thomas Stanley
Educational Consultant-former teacher in high school

Why districts need to adopt a year round program?

There is a great deal written about how much valuable education students lose during the summer. Academic, social and physical skills mastered during the "school year" are lost during this time. There is a solution to this problem that districts should consider, adopt a three-semester system that includes one semester of virtual online education for a student that is fostered by asynchronous and synchronous learning. The K-12 learning environment can be extended throughout the school year by including PBL activities, game based education, simulations, and other interactive online activities using social media. The one semester would be a great time to interact with global groups that will help extend and encourage students to be better 21st century students.

Think about the aggressive nature of learning if students were encouraged to participate in One World-Education, Global SchoolNet, , Flat Classroom, Project Learning LLC,, Epals, and other selected programs. Students would do math/science-based games and simulations using TI calculators, visit video sites, create their own activities - art, music, etc to share with others.

Here is an even scarier idea, take the third semester away from the local schools and make it a national program sponsored by groups like the Library of Congress, or other agencies so that students have an opportunity to do incredible activities. We have Disney, Google, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media sources that can help sponsor these programs. The Lucas Foundation, Apple, Kauffman Foundation, Kellogg Foundation, and other groups could help fund and build one semesters worth of enriched education. These groups can help students gain accessibility and demonstrate accountability that makes these topics not as big an issue as might be imagined.

And, yes, there is a need for physical accountability on the part of students. There are a lot of gyms, recreation programs and organizations that could be used to help students achieve a minimal state of physical growth. During the school year students only take one or two days of PE. And districts like Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada have taken away recess so the students get even less physical activity. Are there minimum standards for physical education to graduate as there are English, Math, Science and Social Studies?

Finally, how easy would it be to test a students learning style, knowledge at the start of the summer program and retest the results at the end of a semester. Not only by asking students to do standardized testing but to demonstrate their skills with projects that they had worked on during the semester. This is the challenge, we have the tools, where are the leaders to make it happen?

Jessica Brown's picture

My students regressing during the summer is something that I am constantly battling. I prepare packets, provide parent seminars with ideas for working with their students. OUr school does have summer school but there arent funds to reach all the students who need extra help. We have students with high needs and not enough money to meet their needs.

zep's picture
Education Specialist

Thomas, in short, if it were truly valuable to students, would they be forgetting it? How many aspects of your career, which are of significance to you, do you forget?

HannahHeejung's picture

That's why I was just on IXL Algebra 1, to prepare for the challenges of Holt Algebra 2 on July 11, then going to IXL Algebra 2 on August 5, in order to study over the summer.
I plan to care for Esther Hope (disabled) and Esther Maria (normal), but I will have them both study over the summer (Esther Maria will do IXL Algebra 1; Esther Hope will do IXL 8th grade math due to slow processing).

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.