Cities Invest in Summer School to Reverse ‘Summer Slide’

Should more kids be encouraged to enroll in summer schoool? With many students coming back from summer vacation significantly behind where they were when they left off the previous June, expanding access to summer academic programs to more students could reverse the effect of the so-called “summer loss” or “summer slide,” writes Brett M. Kelman of USA Today.

A number of urban districts around the country, especially where achievement gaps tend to be the widest, have taken to the idea that summer school could be key to closing those gaps. In recent years, summer school offerings in Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Boston and Washington have been redesigned to give students a half-school, half-camp academic experience designed not only to keep them on track, but also to aid them in catching up to their peers if they are lagging behind.

This year, summer programs have started in Tampa and Newark, while programs in New York and Oakland have grown significantly.

Other districts are studying the effectiveness of their redesigned programs. The Wallace Foundation, which seeks to improve education and enrichment for disadvantaged children, has begun tracking students in six cities — including Cincinnati and Jacksonville — to measure the academic impact of their redesigned summer programs. In California, an independent consultant found robust summer programs in L.A., Fresno and Sacramento had boosted students’ vocabulary skills, sometimes by as much as a third of grade.

Summer school is an expensive proposition and might seem like something that districts – especially those that already struggle with limited budgets – can’t afford. But considering that more than 65% of teachers are reporting that it takes nearly a month in the fall before students are caught up on the material they learned in June, not spending the money on summer school might not be an option.

One of the most troubling explanations of summer learning loss comes from a 2007 study from Johns Hopkins University, “Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap.” The study revealed that students from different income brackets progress at about the same rate during the school year, but only low-income student backslide during the summer. By ninth grade, the summer regression is responsible for about two-thirds of the achievement gap between low income students and their wealthier peers, according to the Johns Hopkins study.

Changing attitudes to the importance of summer academic programs date chiefly from the this study. Since then, participation in summer academic programs has grown substantially. In Boston alone, a program that used to serve only 4,000 students in the district has now grown to 12,000.

Parents are welcoming the effort, too. In San Bernardino, California, where five schools are now participating in a comprehensive academic summer day-camp for students, organizers reported getting enrollment questions from families as early as January.