I want to share a recent op-ed I discovered in The New York Times: Jeff Smink’s “This Is Your Brain on Summer.” It’s relevant, poignant and simple: Students lose hard-earned educational gains during each summer. And Smink certainly brings a credible voice to the table – he’s the vice president of the National Summer Learning Association. Throughout the article he poses this question: Is tradition worth more than student learning?
As a recent high school graduate I wonder how significant of a loss my peers and I suffer each summer. (The learning curve and catch-up every fall does seem to blindside us!) According to the nonprofit RAND Corporation, “…the average summer learning loss in math and reading for American students amounts to one month per year.” That’s massive. And as we often see in education, the slope only steepens for students from low-income backgrounds, who lose “…two months of reading skills, while their higher-income peers … make slight gains.”
So, just how can we fix this seasonal “slide” disorder?
Some of my previous posts reaffirm Smink’s claims that individualized education and parental involvement are critical. And starting summer programs early is also important, for learning losses compound each summer, which Pittsburgh is well aware of. The city is offering students camp-like activities and starting to implement these programs with students from as early as elementary school.
And what about summer school? Perhaps mandatory programs could help to erase the stigma they bear. At my high school students view summer school – with some merit – as a punishment rather than a positive opportunity.
Yet, as this article addresses, critics cite the added expenses of summer school (we know money is already spread incredibly thin at districts). But might this be an upfront investment that can help ensure more students are college- and career-ready (or even graduate for that matter)? Remember, 40 percent of Minnesota high school students who go on to college require remedial math or reading (by some accounts we’re paying for that education twice). And if the average low-income student suffers a two-month loss each year, how much does the district pay when that student has suffered two years of learning loss between kindergarten and their senior year?
Summer learning, whether it’s school-, community- or parent-led, needs to happen. Hopefully, one day, I will read about it in the paper as common practice.
In August I’ll add more personal stories to this conversation. What are your thoughts about the “summer slide?”
Ben Davis is a MinnCAN School Reform Blogging Fellow.
Photo credit: The New York Times