The term 'summer school' in a child’s language is worse than any four-letter curse word in the dictionary. However, to educators and administrators, keeping children educated during the summer may be the best option in closing the achievement gap between students in high-income and low-income areas.
Research has shown that summer learning loss can be devastating for disadvantaged students in lower-income areas. One study showed that summer losses can set a high-income student back in reading up to a month, and up to three months for low-income students.
This means that by the time the student hits high school, low-income students can be up to three grade levels behind in reading. This setback is even more pronounced in math.
Recent reform efforts have been desperately trying to close this gap with various measures focusing on teachers, when summer vacation seems to be doing most of the damage.
Districts have attempted to implement three different changes to the school year to prevent this learning loss by students to varying success: increasing the number of days in the school year, modifying the calendar to change breaks from school, or promoting and implementing summer learning and enrichment programs.
Extending the school year, while would be ideal, often faces the most criticism due to the time and cost it would take to implement the changes. One study by the National Education Association explained that adding days to the calendar would require massive changes to curricula along with teaching methods to combat student fatigue. This often costs too much in a time when budgets are being slashed rather than expanded.
Many districts and schools modify their calendar to reduce the summer break to one month, and expand the winter and spring breaks by a couple weeks. However, parents often criticize this because many schools can’t agree on which calendar to take, leading to multiple schools having different calendars.
Summer programs, however, continue to be effective ways to curb learning loss. Many school districts and communities often offer programs for students to take short classes during the summer that have students using their skills in a variety of ways.
Some programs are just straight classes that have students doing math and reading, while others are more creative, having students apply their knowledge to other areas like gardening.
Unfortunately, summer learning carries a stigma among both children and parents, with the belief that summer school is for those who failed in school and need extra help. However, many programs do just the opposite, helping students maintain knowledge, get ahead and apply their knowledge.
To overcome this stigma, educators and administrators need to focus on a few things:
• Getting high quality teachers to participate in the programs. Just as people want the best teachers teaching during the school year, this shouldn’t change in the summer.
• Being creative and innovative in teaching. This is especially important as children will be less attentive during the summer months. At the same time, summer programs are often more flexible in allowing teachers to use unorthodox methods of teaching.
• Secure funding. Communities often have public funding available for these programs, and often there are national organizations set up to help in these areas.
• Parent involvement. For many of these programs to work, parents must be involved. Have them volunteer, and keep them in the loop on what is going on. Also studies have shown that by involving parents in a child’s education summer loss is significantly decreased.
Ultimately, the way summer school is portrayed needs to change. Ron Fairchild, CEO of a nonprofit organization in Baltimore called the National Summer Learning Association, explains that in the end people have to realize that these programs are designed to help students rather than hinder them.
“That phrase has such a bad ring to it,” Fairchild said to Time Magazine. “We need to push school districts to frame summer school as a good thing, something extra, not a punishment. There is a cultural barrier that we have to overcome. We're not the Grinch that stole summer vacation.”
Daniel Duerden is a writer and content editor for 360 Education Solutions