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Lesson 4.6

Time to Learn, or Time to Forget?

For kids, there’s a downside to summer. The evidence says…

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Summer has a very different meaning for middle-and upper-income students than for low-income students.

For example, while middle-income and wealthy children typically improve their reading performance over America’s long summer break, low income children experience a “summer learning loss” equivalent to at least a month of lost progress. Summer learning loss is cumulative; students who fall behind in the summer don't catch up.

Summers expand the achievement gap.

Summer Summer "learning loss" is cumulative, as shown by this graphic from

Many suppose that the long summer break in the school calendar is somehow connected to America's agricultural past. This is a myth.

Many suppose that the long summer break in the school calendar is somehow connected to America’s agricultural past. This is a myth.

The complicated history of summer vacation probably has more to do with the sweltering discomfort of a stuffy classroom than to the needs of the fields.

From time to time, education reform thinkers suggest shifting to a "year round" schedule in which breaks would be shorter and more evenly spaced through the school year. The idea was discussed seriously for a few years when California's schools were massively overcrowded. The NEA summarized the issue for its members.

Summer School costs money

There are many summer programs for children, but few are free, and not all are academically focused. In the economic downturn that began in 2008, school districts were given the option of doing away with summer school programs the state had previously funded. Many did so. One dedicated source of funding that remained for summer programs was through state and federal “extended learning” grants. Partly driven by matching grant challenges, some philanthropic and community organizations became interested in helping provide more summer learning opportunities and schools turned to them for help.

In California this all coincided with the development of some innovative new programs under the umbrella of the Summer Matters Campaign. These programs depend on an intentional synergy between the academic focus of traditional, district-led summer schools and “summer camp” programs that emphasize fun, engaging activities. Important aspects of this effort have been to encourage communities to try new approaches and on-going evaluation to see what works to engage kids, prevent summer learning loss, and perhaps even give kids a jump start on the coming school year.

The Myth of the Summer Job

For some teens, a "summer job" is literally a job, complete with pay. But teen summer jobs are actually much less common than you might think. According to the Pew Research Center, "the decline of summer jobs is, in fact, a specific instance of the decline in overall youth employment." All over the world, teen employment has been on a long, steady slide for decades. In America, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that teen employment rates have fallen by nearly half in the last 20 years.


Less than a third of teens are employed in the peak month of July. White teens are employed in the summer at dramatically higher rates than nonwhite teens.


Over half of summer jobs for teens are in food service or retail, mainly at minimum wage. There is no persuasive evidence to predict whether rising minimum wages will increase or decrease teen employment.

For most students, working in the summer isn't an option. Most are too young, and the summer "job" for many older students is to look after their younger siblings while their parents are at work. For students living in poverty, summer can make their conditions worse. Their parents may find it harder to care for them while finding ways to earn money and keep food on the table.

Of course, summers are not the only time that students might be learning (or not) out of school hours. The next lesson examines what we know about the use of after-school time.


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Questions & Comments

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user avatar
Lisette October 3, 2017 at 4:27 pm
I live in a school district where some schools area year-round. Does anyone know how regular school vs year-round is determined? If left to a vote, I vote for year-round all the way!
user avatar
Jeff Camp February 18, 2017 at 12:08 pm
With support from the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, 495 students in Oakland were provided a five-week intensive summer reading program. The program featured parent participation and direct instruction. This intervention approximately HALVED the reading gap for participating students (and almost eliminated it entirely for kindergarten.)
user avatar
Carol Kocivar July 12, 2016 at 2:22 pm
Summer Learning: The Next Education Reform?
Check out our Ed100 blog...
user avatar
Carol Kocivar February 3, 2016 at 11:00 am
Find out what states are doing to support summer learning...
This Policy Snapshot highlights three areas of legislation:
* Literacy
* STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)
* Libraries.
user avatar
Carol Kocivar December 5, 2015 at 11:42 am
Sample LCAP for summer learning
The Partnership for Children and Youth has released a sample LCAP to illustrate ways for districts to fund quality summer learning programs.
user avatar
Tay Fe April 23, 2015 at 2:53 pm
I am starting a summer program with students at my children's school to help them remember and be ready for the next school year.
user avatar
Annie O April 22, 2015 at 6:35 pm
What a great conversation to have with school admin! A summer home program would be great!
user avatar
Stacey W April 6, 2015 at 8:36 pm
When my kids were in elementary school, I used to ask their teachers for suggested reading material. My goal was to find books that would pique their interest and imaginations. Later on, a teacher suggested a "bridge over" workbook that helps keep students' skills up during the summer. My kids would do 1 workbook page a day, which was more than manageable.
user avatar
Veli Waller April 5, 2015 at 8:04 pm
The video with this lesson explains summer learning loss and the achievement gap very well.
user avatar
cnuptac March 22, 2015 at 6:38 pm
I would love for our district to offer fun learning classes over the summer like math hands on. Cooking classes that proper eating because the kids learn to make it so they try it. All art classes drama musice and anything else. Small fee I could understand but to pay 3 hundred for 6 weeks just doesn't work for low income
user avatar
Rob M April 10, 2011 at 7:58 pm
The cumulative effect of summer learning loss for economically disadvantaged students over a 13 year period can be significant, and clearly the state needs to invest more resources to assist economically disadvantaged students. The state needs to streamline its funding system and target more of its resources at students with additional needs. Whether that additional investment should be made during the summer or during the school year is a question without much research to guide education policymakers. The research on the academic impact of summer school is mixed at best. So, this may not be the best use of resources to close achievement gaps even if the summer learning loss is part of the cause of those gaps.
©2003-2018 Jeff Camp
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