Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Summer Learning Loss: How Communities Are Reversing the Trend

In her June 19 Summer Learning Day message, First Lady Michelle Obama thanked communities for their summertime investments in youth: “Summer shouldn’t just be a vacation. Instead, it should be a time to get ahead, to branch out and learn new skills, to have new experiences…and for anyone who’s fallen behind, it’s a time to catch up on lessons they missed.”

Research shows that summers without quality learning opportunities put our nation’s youth at risk for falling behind – year after year – in core subjects like math and reading. These losses over the summer are cumulative and contribute significantly to the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income kids.

At the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), we continue to develop and provide resources around strengthening and expanding summer learning programs in communities. With the support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, our new report, Accelerating Achievement Through Summer Learning is an essential resource for program providers, education leaders, policymakers, and funders who are making important decisions around summer learning programs as a way to accelerate student achievement.

The report profiles thirteen diverse, replicable summer learning program models and demonstrates how these programs address a variety of K-12 education priorities to deliver strong outcomes for children, youth, and educators. As described in the report, we know a lot about the power of summer learning for students and teachers.

  • Summer learning programs can erase early reading deficits. More than 80 percent of low-income youth in this country are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade, making them more than four times as likely to drop out of high school as their peers to who reach this critical benchmark. K-3 summer learning programs have been shown not only to mitigate summer learning losses in reading in the early grades, but to accelerate skill development to get young people up to grade level by third grade.
  • High-quality summer learning programs level the college and career playing field. Alarming data on the skilled workforce pipeline and need for remedial coursework in two- and four-year colleges have created a national sense of urgency around work-embedded learning, apprenticeships and college preparation programs, particularly for first-generation attenders. Summer youth employment programs are proving critical to keeping students productively engaged and learning, making meaningful contributions to their community, learning valuable job skills, and exploring potential careers.
  • Pre-service and in-service teachers want to make the most of their summers. Quality teaching is consistently linked to successfully closing achievement gaps, but most teachers today have between one and two years of experience. Summer learning programs are an increasingly likely place to find the kinds of pipelines into and through the teaching profession that are working. Offering training, mentorship, leadership, and ownership of their work, community-based programs give new teachers additional time to hone their skills, refine lesson plans, and build deeper relationships with students.

Many kinds of high-quality learning opportunities during the summer can make a difference in stemming learning loss. These opportunities can be voluntary or mandatory, at school, community organizations, or even at home. And we know that “quality” is well-defined and rooted in research. A major study from the RAND Corporation shows that individualized academic instruction, parental involvement, and smaller class sizes are a few components of high-quality programs that produce positive results for young people. The “Best Practices in Summer Learning for Middle and High School Youth” resource from NSLA and the New York Life Foundation is an online guide in text and video offering effective ways of engaging older youth in summer learning.

Across the country, NSLA is seeing many states and cities embrace summer learning as a key strategy in helping their students make measurable academic progress.  We hope that if you haven’t already, you will take the pledge to keep kids learning and place your program on our interactive map. Together, we can ensure that students have the opportunity to engage in meaningful learning all year long.

Rachel Gwaltney is the Director of Policy and Partnerships for the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA). She leads development and implementation of services, projects, and partnerships that strengthen summer learning policy and build capacity of state and national leaders and organizations. Learn more about DCAYA's fantastic partner, the National Summer Learning Association, at And consider attending their Summer Changes Everything annual conference, October 12-14 in Baltimore, MD.

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