The Evolution of the School Calendar and the
Why the new vision?
Put simply, kids need it. Without ongoing opportunities to learn and practice essential skills, kids fall behind on measures of academic achievement over the summer months. Research dating back over 100 years confirms the phenomenon often referred to as “summer slide” (White, 1906). Most youth lose about two months of grade level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. More importantly, however, low-income youth also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, Nye, Charlton, & Greathouse, 1996). This disparity has grave consequences for disadvantaged young people. Differences in a child’s summer learning experiences during his or her elementary school years can impact whether that child ultimately earns a high school diploma and continues on to college (Alexander, Entwistle, & Olson, 2007).
Schools have additional reasons to adopt the new vision for summer learning. Contending with ever-higher benchmarks and bleak international comparisons, schools need creative solutions to narrowing the achievement gap. Summer presents an untapped opportunity – a time of year when youth and families seek programs that look and feel different from the traditional school year; teachers have the flexibility to be innovative and creative in their teaching and assessment; and community partners with specialized expertise in arts, recreation, sports, and youth development abound.
The purpose of this article is to summarize key research studies that underscore the need for summer learning, and identify a few strategies that can help educators to bring a new vision for summer to the masses.
1. Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap. K. Alexander, D. Entwisle and L. Olson, American Sociological Review, 2007 (72, 167-180).
What did the study examine?
Launched in 1982, the Beginning School Study (BSS) monitored the educational progress of a representative random sample of Baltimore school children from first grade through age 22. The BSS tracked testing data, learning patterns, high school placement, high school completion, and college attendance, among other indicators.
-Better-off and disadvantaged youth make similar achievement gains during the school year; but during the summer, disadvantaged youth fall significantly behind in reading.
-By the end of fifth grade, disadvantaged youth are nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading.
-Two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years; nearly one-third of the gap is already present when children begin school.
-Early summer learning losses have later life consequences, including high school curriculum placement, whether kids drop out of high school, and whether they attend college.
Disadvantaged By Year Better-Off By Year
Disadvantaged By Year Better-Off By Year
The graphs above show cumulative gains on California Achievement Test in reading over elementary school years and summers. Sample consists of Baltimore Public School students who entered first grade in 1982. Test “scale scores” are California Achievement Test scores calibrated to measure growth over a student’s 12-year career.
Source: Entwisle, Alexander, and Olson (1997). Table 3.1
Note: From ‘summer Learning and its Implications: Insights from the Beginning School Study,” by K. L. Alexander, D.R. Entwisle, and L.S. Olson, 2007b, New Directions for Youth Development, 114, p.18.
Copyright 2007. Reprinted with permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
2. The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. H. Cooper, B. Nye, K. Charlton, J. Lindsay and S. Greathouse, Review of Educational Research, 1996 (66, 227-268).
What did the study examine?
This meta-analysis uncovered 39 research reports that contained descriptions of empirical studies meant to test the effect of summer vacation on school achievement. Thirteen of those studies were examined together to determine the effect of summer break on student achievement.
-At best, students showed little or no academic growth over the summer. At worst, students lost one to three months of learning.
-Summer learning loss was somewhat greater in math than reading.
-Summer learning loss was greatest in math computation and spelling.
-For disadvantaged students, reading scores were disproportionately affected and the achievement gap between rich and poor widened.
While the research on summer learning loss is clear and compelling, newer research brings attention to additional “summer setbacks.” When compared to the school year, many more kids are going without meals, as access to federally subsidized meals declines significantly during the summer months.
According to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), in July 2007, only 17.5 children nationwide received Summer Nutrition for every 100 low-income students who received free or reduced price lunch during the 2006-2007 school year (Food Research and Action Council, 2008). Kids in some states fare better than others. Only eleven states managed to reach one-quarter of their low-income children, while thirteen states served less than one-tenth of their low-income children population through summer nutrition. The report states, “In July 2007 if every state had reached the goal of serving 40 children in Summer Nutrition for every 100 receiving free and reduced-price lunches during the 2006-2007 school year, an additional 3.7 million children would have been served each day, and the states would have collected an additional $222 million in child nutrition funding.”
Highest Rate of Summer Food Service Participation
Lowest Rate of Summer Food Service Participation
District of Columbia 95.9 / 100
So What Can Educators Do To Prioritize Summer Learning?
The research on summer learning loss is unequivocal. Now our challenge is collecting equally strong evidence of the impact of high-quality summer programs. If more districts and community partners begin to implement a New Vision for Summer and evaluate the success of this approach, we will be well on our way to building the evidence base that we need to inform future programming.
Alexander, K., Entwisle, D., and Olson, L. (2007). Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review, 72, 167-180.
American Camp Association. (2009). 20/10 Vision - Our Preferred Future. Retrieved from http://www.acacamps.org/2020/. May 13, 2009.
Bialeschki, M. D., & Malinowski, J., (2009) Camper Enrollment: Time to Hold a Steady Course. Camping Magazine, March/April. Retrieved from http://www.acacamps.org/campmag/issues/0903/enrollment_tables.pdf, May 13, 2009.
Borman, G.D. (2001). Summers are for learning. Principal, 80(3), 26-29.
Capizzano, J., Adelman, S., and Stagner, M. (2002). What happens when the school year is over: The use and costs for child care for school age children during the summer months. Occasional Paper, 58. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
Cooper, H., Nye, B., Charlton, K., Lindsay, J., & Greathouse, S. (1996). The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research, 66, 227-268.
Duffet, A., Johnson, J., Farkas, S., King, S., and Ott, A. (2004). All work and no play: Listening to what kids and parents really want from out-of-school time. Washington, DC: Public Agenda.
Food Research and Action Council (2008). Hunger doesn’t take a vacation: Summer nutrition status report 2008. Washington, DC: Author.
McLaughlin, B. and Smink, J. (2009). Summer Learning: Moving from the Periphery to the Core. Denver, Colorado: Education Commission of the States. Progress of Education Reform, Vol. 10, No. 3.
White, W. (1906). Reviews before and after vacation. American Education, 185-188.
Wimer, C., Bouffard, S., Caronongan, P, Dearing, E., Simpkins, S., Little, P., and Weiss, H. (2006). What are kids getting into these days? Demographic differences in youth out-of-school time participation. Harvard, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.
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