How the Summer Learning Gap Affects Students

Children all around America long for summer’s arrival and dread the coming of autumn because these two seasons represent the beginning and end of their summer vacation. Teachers, too, do not look forward to the start of a new school year, not for a dislike of their profession, but because of the added work that they need to do in order to begin teaching the year’s curriculum.

While many parents keep their kids engaged during the long vacation by enrolling their children in summer activities that include summer school, sports and library reading programs, far too many children end up with a summer learning loss as a result of the traditional summer break from school. The average student loses roughly 2.6 months worth of knowledge during the typical three-month summer vacation, according to an article on the National Association for Year Round Education website. As a result, teachers have to spend as many as six weeks getting students ready to learn the new grade-level materials. Of course, teachers could just skip the review, but as the student progresses through the grades, the learning loss will accumulate and the nation’s students will fall even further behind other industrialized countries when it comes to math and science knowledge.

Cause of the summer learning gap

There are two main reasons this learning gap occurs in students of all ages. Here’s a look at each of the causes:

  • Idle students: As more parents work full time, kids have less supervision when they are home by themselves. The average child is not going to spend summer days absorbed in science experiments, history books and reading “War and Peace.” At this point, educators would even be happy to have their students watch just a few episodes of Bill Nye the Science Guy. With a plethora of media at their fingertips, literally, students of the 21st century have plenty of non-educational ways in which to entertain themselves.
  • Low-income students: Middle- and upper-class parents who are active in their child’s education often sign the kid up for classes, tutoring sessions or spend time engaging them in educational activities at home. However, the same is not true for children whose parents are working day and night just to put food on the table. Low-income parents are often too preoccupied with providing food and shelter, and they don’t have the time or the money to attend to their child’s educational needs outside of the academic year. It’s believed that as many as 66 percent of teens do not have access to summer educational opportunities.  No matter which socioeconomic class they belong to, this fact puts them even more behind their peers who are continuing their education during the summer.

Benefits of an extended academic year or year-round education

Whether schools choose to break up their typical 180-day academic year more evenly over the course of 365 days, or add up to an additional 80 days for a more comprehensive school year, there are increased benefits over the typical two-semester academic year that most schools use. Three such benefits are:

  • Less review time: After a short break, teachers and students can jump back into the coursework feeling refreshed, yet still very familiar with what was last covered before the break. That gives students more time to grasp complicated concepts they may find difficult.
  • Sufficient learning time: Teachers who are in year-round schools seldom worry that there isn’t enough time to cover the whole textbook. Usually they run out of text before time! This allows them to do all of those things that they used to wish they could do like take field trips, have guest speakers, do experiments, engage in service projects and other activities that make learning fun.
  • Eliminates summer learning loss: Since all students, no matter which part of society they come from, are enrolled in school for 12 months a year, there’s little time for anyone to have extra advantages over others.

In year-round school, students’ learning never ends. School districts would be wise to change their school year calendar a bit in order to offer students these benefits. Sure, everyone will lose out on a long vacation, but the future of the nation is at stake.

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This section is devoted to information for improving student academic achievement with resources devoted to research development and curriculum implementation. Articles will direct you to online resources that will help students inside--and outside—the classroom. The relationship between “what to teach’ (curriculum) and “how to teach” (instruction) is also explored.

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