Summer slide —why it matters, and how we can fight it
For most, summer brings back fond memories of school breaks— precious time spent at summer camps, having sleepovers with friends, and generally avoiding all things related to school until the inevitable trip to the store to buy school supplies in August. Many students will return to their desks this fall and never miss a beat, picking up new skills after quickly reviewing old ones and moving forward. However, not every student will have it so easy. Some children, when they return to school in the fall, will have lost some of the skills they learned in the last year. This is referred to as summer slide, when a student slides backwards academically over the summer. Summer slide creates a challenge for teachers, who assume that their students enter their grade level with a certain set of skills. If students have lost skills over the summer, this creates challenges for the teacher: how can they keep a child moving forward, if they aren’t prepared for the grade they are entering?
According to the National Summer Learning Association, “summer learning loss… is one of the most significant causes of the achievement gap between lower and higher income youth and one of the strongest contributors to the high school dropout rate.” Summer slide is hugely significant—teachers can be superstars, intervention programs can bring up student reading level during the year, but it’s assumed that some of that gain will be lost over the summer. According to the NSLA, “Every summer, low income youth lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make slight gains. Most youth lose about two months of math skills in the summer.” This means that a good teacher has to backtrack every August— covering grounds that students should already be familiar with. Or worse, the teacher must forge ahead, hoping that the student can catch back up now that they are back in class.
One of the easiest ways to prevent summer learning loss is by encouraging summer reading. While middle and high school students might have one book to read over the summer as a class assignment, all students can benefit from a love of reading. In Dallas, the mayor supports the Mayor’s Summer Reading Club, a multifaceted educational initiative that encourages reading. In addition to offering prizes for reading a certain number of books, the program offers educational programming at local library branches. For example, last year the Bachman Lake branch hosted a STEM focused hour where students were able to construct marble runs and race each other. In Dallas, the program also helps to combat hunger; free lunch is available daily at the library for children and parents who accompany them.
Dallas also has created a public-private initiative called “Dallas City of Learning,” an online platform that allows students to take advantage of both in person and online learning opportunities and earn online badges to document their success. Since its launch, 34,000 student accounts have been created and over 1700 learning opportunities have been listed. The initiative is a great example of trying to meet students where they are, as opposed to having to have students come to a specific location. In Dallas, there are some great museums, but getting students to them, especially if their parents have to work over the summer, can be challenging. Dallas City of Learning allows a multi-pronged approach, where learning can happen online when it isn’t possible to visit in person.
Another option available to some families is to explore day camps in the city. There are a couple of organizations in Dallas that offer low-cost or free summer programming for students during the summer. The YMCA is able to offer more affordable summer day camps for kids, but most summer camps cost big dollars—a notable challenge for low income families. And not all summer camps incorporate academics; many are more sports or entertainment focused. The biggest challenge can be finding affordable and location-accessible camps; as a result, many low-income students aren’t enrolled in them. Some neighborhood community centers offer summer programming ranging from tutoring to field trips as an alternative—definitely an area worth expanding.
Perhaps the most radical solution to combatting summer slide is the concept of year round learning. E.L. Haynes Public Charter School in D.C. is a notable example of the model, in which students have shorter breaks throughout the year and do not have an extended summer break. This model effectively addresses concerns over summer learning loss, but is much harder to institute, especially on a large scale.
Summer slide is a serious concern, but one that is possible to overcome with quality educational access over the summer. In order to address the achievement gap effectively, we must work to expand summer programming and access to all students, whether that means expanding programming in Dallas from libraries to community centers to make it more accessible, providing public transit options for children, or creating more affordable camps or scholarships for students to continue to reach high over the summer. If we are able to address summer learning loss, we will have a much better shot at moving students forward during the academic year.