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It’s summertime.  School is out. No more homework.  No more books.  Ten weeks of fun and joy for the kids.  But is a summertime break really good for your children, or would a summer learning program be more beneficial in the long run?


History of Summer Break

A summer break from public school was originally created in the early 1800s when working the land was a major family occupation and summers were scheduled into the school year to allow kids to help out with crop planting and harvesting.    Later in the century, school schedules were longer but completely avoided summer classes.  The summer break idea was originally proposed by members of the upper class in America so they could take long family vacations every year.  Of course, most people could not afford vacations and most parents worked full time, which left many kids “running wild” around cities and neighborhoods with no focus or purpose to their summer break.  Juvenile crime rose and, in the early 1900s, the idea of “vacation schools” popped up with the purpose of decreasing crime, giving immigrant children something to do that might help them adapt to their new culture, and providing city kids with some kind of structured activity while their parents were away at work.  It wasn’t until the 1920s when “summer schools” started to appear for the primary purpose of remediation for problem students or students who had fallen behind during the school year.  (Gold, K. 2002.  School’s in: A history of summer education in American public schools. Peter Land Publishing.)


But what actually happens when kids are out of school for three months?

Johns Hopkins University studied a group of Baltimore students and discovered a significant “achievement gap” in students from various income and social categories and discovered that about 66% (two-thirds) of the “gap” could be attributed to summer learning loss during their time in elementary school.  Researchers and school administrators began to realize that the idea of investing effort and money into educating students for nine months of the year and then simply walking away from that investment in the summer months made no sense.  A 2011 study completed by RAND Education (a unit of the RAND corporation sponsored by The Wallace Foundation) found that “participation in summer learning programs should mitigate learning loss and could even produce achievement gains.”  Other studies suggested that the gains made by students during summer learning programs sometimes lasted up to two years after the summer program was completed.


Although all students are at risk of losing during the summer some of what they learned doing the school year, more than 80 percent of economically disadvantaged children lose reading and math skills based on lack of access to books and summer enrichment camps and programs that are available to those whose parents have the financial ability to pay for such assets.  The National Center for Education Statistics found that “students who lose reading ability over the summer months rarely catch up.  Over time, the summer learning slide can add up to the equivalent of three years of reading loss by the end of the fifth grade.”  (National center for Education Statistics.  The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL).; ii. )


In fact, a large body of research indicates that students’ standardized test scores are lower at the end of summer break than they were at the end of the previous school year.  The same research showed that, while middle income level kids tend to experience higher reading scores during the summer months, lower-income students often lose more than two months of reading skills during the same time period.  But all students studied, across the board, lost a month or more of spelling skills during summer break.  Also in July of 2011, the New York Times reported that “Summers off are one of the most important, yet least acknowledged, causes of underachievement in our schools.”


Positive Results with Summer Learning Programs

Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of U.S. students are able to participate in summer learning programs, while 83% of parents surveyed for the New York Times’ report supported the idea of summer learning programs and 67% of low-income parents said they would enroll their children in summer learning programs if they could afford to do so.  An article published by the Johns Hopkins School of Education and written by Brenda McLaughlin, M.P.P. and Jeffrey Smink, M.Ed., noted that “Rigorous studies of voluntary summer programs, mandatory summer programs and programs that encourage students to read at home in the summer, have all found positive effects on student achievement.  [Combined evidence] … suggests that all of these types of summer learning programs can mitigate summer learning losses and even lead to achievement gains.”


What researchers have learned is that summer learning losses are not temporary, but can increase over time, resulting in students who consistently perform below grade level.  Statistics show that summer learning programs consistently reap benefits for students whether they are attending for purposes of remediation or enrichment. The take-away lesson is that – every moment in the classroom counts.


Online Summer Learning through GSN

Global Student Network (GSN) makes summer learning convenient. With a variety of programs from which to choose, you can easily make learning part of your summer plans.

Click here to learn more about GSN’s summer learning special.