Summer Learning Loss is a topic so important to some parents and educators that it has its own article in Wikipedia. There are several definitions, but the one I like is from another important web site, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF):
All young people experience learning losses when they don’t engage in educational activities during the summer. Research 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 summer vacation.
On average, students lose approximately 2.6 months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Studies reveal that the greatest areas of summer loss for all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, are in factual or procedural knowledge.1
Research is also showing that Summer Learning Loss is strongly correlated to a student’s socio-economic status. Low-income children, generally in the primary grades, experience greater losses over the summer vacation than do their middle-income peers. That there is a problem is not under debate. How to fix the problem is another story.
And there is also debate on what actually causes the problem. Low-income status is one; then there is loss of nutritional meals that are provided by the school; lack of supervision in the summer; higher use of tobacco, drugs, and alcohol; other high-risk behaviors; and finally, and obviously, lack of ongoing educational stimuli.
Extensive work in this area does show that low-income and other disadvantaged children are seriously hampered by the Summer Learning Loss syndrome which in turn seems to be a descending spiral almost guaranteeing continued poverty and economic decline across generations.
These conditions have led some to urge revision of the traditional school year calendar from nine months to a full year. But there are also other proposals that are not quite so drastic a change, such as modifying the calendar so that students attend school during the summer, just not full time; extending the school year to have an earlier start and later dismissal (there is similar movement to extend the school day); offer voluntary courses throughout the summer which are available but not mandatory; offer work and other educational internships during the summer in the school setting; offer non-classroom activities such as field trips, sports programs, reading clubs, and other activities that guarantee adult supervision in a learning environment.
As you can imagine, trying to prevent Summer Learning Loss by going to school all year will have more than traditional opposition of “that’s not the way we did it when I was a kid…”. There is the very real need for some students to be able to work during the summer to supplement their family’s income or make money for college. When the nine-month calendar was institutionalized, most of the country worked on farms or farm-related businesses and the summer months were spent in the fields. It is within the memory of many Mainers from Aroostook County that school was interrupted in the fall so that the potato harvest could be brought in.
Further, some school districts simply do not have the budget to open year-round, either for salaries or for facility maintenance.
And lastly, there would be the loss of some valuable experiences that many students thrive on such as summer camp, summer sports, family vacations, and unregimented time simply for exploration and socialization.
But returning to the very real problem of Summer Learning Loss, it is imperative that the majority of students need formal educational instruction during these three months, if not to bolster already learned subjects, simply to allow students to get the kind of education needed in this highly competitive economic world. I’ll just mention here that students from other counties continue to out-score US students on some standardized tests.
Finally, almost all of the studies conducted on this topic point to one unchangeable fact: Those students who are engaged, motivated, and excited about primary and secondary educational experiences are the ones who always do well in higher education and in the job market. No matter what solution, or combination of experiences we offer our students, the one most likely to help them succeed is the presence of a good experience in the traditional classroom…which is carried over to all facets of life. Those educational systems that make learning a full-time endeavor regardless of the setting or the age of the student are the ones we should be emulating. The evidence is there. We just need to follow the trail.
From our point of view at New England Tutors, we’ve identified a range of students who could use an ongoing instructional environment: students who have failed a class such as Math, Science, and English; students who struggled with a particular subject during the school year and who need a boost in proficiency and confidence; students who will be taking advance placement classes and want to get a jump-start on them; athletes whose schedules have kept them from study time; and finally, special needs students who should have consistency in the learning environment through the summer.
Until our school systems sort out the conundrum of what to do to prevent Summer Learning Loss, an obvious solution is to design exactly the type of instruction a student needs with a professional, in-home tutor such as we provide at New England Tutors.