Feb 25, 2014 by Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP
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Deliberate practice

Close the achievement gap. Fix learning problems. Solve all our education problems! Educators are faced with increased responsibility and pressure – like never before.  It’s no wonder that summer learning loss becomes another challenge that’s rarely addressed sufficiently.

The role that summer learning loss plays in the achievement gap is borne out by decades of research. According to research by Karl Alexander and colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, the disparity in summer learning opportunities is responsible for more than half of the achievement gap. More than half.That should mean that we could improve the problem by at least half by providing equal access to summer learning opportunities for disadvantaged students – and yet the creation of effective summer learning programs for lower-income students has not been a significant focus of literacy efforts in the U.S.  Let’s look at some of the latest facts on summer learning loss:

  • Low-income students lose more than two months in reading achievement during the summer, while high-income students, on average, see reading gains during the summer.
  • Low- and high- income students lose math skills at more or less the same rate over the summer months.
  • Lower-income students have less access to books at home and around the neighborhood, a “disability” of sorts that compounds year over year, resulting in a divide between advantaged and disadvantaged students that increases over time.
  • The problem of the summer slide is compounded for ELL students, who may lose all access to fluent English modeling and speaking opportunities over the summer months resulting in loss of language skills.
  • ELLs benefit from book reading, writing, and differentiated learning opportunities offered by summer learning programs. They also benefit from the social support that is critical to their academic success.

While federal programs are not yet making summer reading programs a focus in addressing the achievement gap, it makes sense that districts should. The research has shown that at-risk students need affordable access to significant and effective summer learning opportunities with an emphasis on reading books that interest students, at the correct reading level.

Districts can take steps today toward applying a known solution to fix a known problem, or can wait for federal policy to catch up with the research and take the lead. The thing is, as long as students are not involved in effective summer learning programs, the summer learning gap – and as a result, the achievement gap – isn’t going away. Even if disadvantaged students make great progress during the academic year. It’s really a no-brainer.

How should districts pay for it? Here are some sources that can help get district-driven summer learning programs going:

  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers
  • Title I Supplemental Education Services
  • The Child Care and Development Fund
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families

References:

Alexander, K.L., Entwisle, D.R., Olson, L.S. (2007). Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap, American Sociological Review, 72, 167-180. doi:10.1177/000312240707200202

Hur, J.S., & Suh, S. (2010). The Development, Implementation, and Evaluation of a Summer School for English Language Learners. Professional Educator, 34(2). Retrieved from: http://www.theprofessionaleducator.org/

Vanderhaar, J.E., & Munoz, M.A. (2005). Limited English Proficient Intervention: Effects of a Summer Program in Reading and Mathematics. Retrieved from ERIC database. (ED491400)

Smink, J. (2011, July 27). This Is Your Brain on Summer. [Op-Ed]. The New York Times.Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/opinion/28smink.html  

Related reading:

How to Create an Effective Summer Learning Program

18 Ways to Encourage Students to Read This Summer