The news is always negative when it comes to news stories about the effect that summer has on learning for the students.
For example, in 2018 The Economist proclaimed: “Long summer holidays are bad for kids, particularly the young.” This headline is very representative of how summer loss is presented. Summer has come to be seen as a time when children are missing as much as a month of learning by classes.
Nearly 50,000 media articles about summer learning appeared in 2018, such as the one by The Economist. The message also has an impact on politics. In 2017, Lawmakers introduced 293 state bills relating to summer programming. Such bills dealt with summer learning in a variety of ways – including a vetoed Maine bill that sought to set up a “Summer Success Plan Fund” to a California bill that requires up to 30 per cent of funds to go to summer learning before and after school.
Despite the obvious assumption that children are missing learning during the summer, a Brookings Institute 2017 study found that the summer learning research is actually very mixed.
Another 2018 research found signs of a learning loss between the second and ninth grades each summer, but results greatly vary from study to study.
It has led some researchers-including me-to doubt whether there is even a loss in the summer.
Using existing, nationally representative data, I tried to decide how big a problem is the lack of summer learning. I concentrated on the students of elementary school.
1. Most children are unaffected
My analysis using national data indicates that the summer learning loss problem is, in general, overblown. For fact, between kindergarten and first grade, only 7 percent of students miss the equivalent of one month of school year learning for reading, and 9 percent in math over the summer. That rises to 15 per cent in reading and 18 per cent in math over the summer prior to second grade. This means that most youths are not feeling the lack of summer learning.
In fact, my work shows that most kids learn or maintain their skills over the summer.
2. Losses don’t last long
I also wanted to know whether in primary school children who fell over the summer would remain behind. Using national results, my findings indicate that by the end of the fourth grade summer sliders and gainers aren’t very different. For example, the average score for kids who gained or slid before second grade over the summer varied by just 0.04 points for math and 0.12 points for reading two years later.
3. Heaviest students lose the most
I was also interested to see whether it could be decided what kinds of student characteristics and context variables contribute to the lack of summer learning. You might expect – as I did – that children with poor abilities would be more likely to lose during the season before school. And you’d be mistaken – just as I was.
It was only children with higher reading or math scores who were more likely to experience a summer decline before the start of the season.
4. Summer ‘Homework’ isn’t so necessary
You might also assume that over the summer, students who do daily math, write, or read would hang on to more information. That was not the case, however. For example, 78 per cent of gainers’ parents and 79 per cent of sliders’ parents read their children’s books regularly; about half do daily writing activities.
The only difference is that children who read more frequently to themselves were less likely to slip between the first and second grades while reading. It is based on my research, which shows 71.44 percent of gainers’ parents indicated that their child reads to themselves daily, compared to 67.81 percent of sliders’ parents.
5. Let Them Join
All this is not to suggest, because it does, that summer holidays do not come with its share of risks to children. But if I had to think about a danger posed to my child by summer break, it wouldn’t be a loss in the summer. I will be more worried with studies showing children gaining more weight in the summer than they do in the school year.
I don’t have any problem with parents or educators needing children to read books or study math during the summer to remain academically successful. But let’s make sure they go out there and play so they can keep in good condition as well.