By Rachel Stine, Partnerships Manager
This post originally ran on the blog of The United Way of the Greater Triangle.
Every year at this time, the final bell rings and children leave school excited for summer vacation. Summer can be a time to relax and refuel – but for some students, it can be a time of vulnerability and setback.
Research shows that children from middle and high income families have access to enrichments during summer: camps, extra tutoring, and access to books help these children keep their brains engaged in learning all summer long. When these students return to school in the fall, they experience minimal declines in reading and math levels and some have even made academic gains.
But children from lower income families often have a much different experience during the summer. Without the same level of access to summer camps, books, tutoring, or other enrichments, these children may begin the school year having lost two months’ worth of reading skills. These students experience “summer learning loss” or the “summer slide”.
What happens during summer accounts for an astounding 80% of the income-based achievement gap (Drs. Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, Summer Reading: Closing the Rich-Poor Reading Achievement Gap, Teachers College Press, 2012). And it compounds year to year: one summer of learning loss sets this group of children two months behind their middle and upper income peers, but by the end of fifth grade, students from lower-income families can be as much as three years behind their peers (“Lasting Consequences of Summer Learning Gap,” by K.L. Alexander, D.R. Entwisle, and L.S. Olson in the American Sociological Review 72 (4): 167-80, 2007; professional presentation by Dr. Alexander, February 12, 2015). At that point it is extremely difficult if not impossible to catch up.
What can be done? Reading books over the summer, especially high-interest books which children select themselves, has proven to be a high-impact, cost-effective way to combat summer learning loss. Having access to plenty of books for three summers in a row, in fact, confers that same benefit as a $3,000 summer school course – at a fraction of the cost (Drs. Richard Allington and Anne McGill-Franzen, Summer Reading: Closing the Rich-Poor Reading Achievement Gap, Teachers College Press, 2012).
Earlier this month, I was at Durham’s Glenn Elementary School talking to children about the importance of reading during the summer. Students were about to select 10 free books to take home to read over the summer and keep forever. I posed the question, “Why are we doing this today, right before school gets out for summer?” The best answer came from a student who raised her hand and said, “Reading keeps our brains smart!”
Yes, reading does keep brains smart, and reading over the summer is crucial for the academic success of all our children. Closing the book gap in the summer can combat summer learning loss and thus help to narrow the income-based achievement gap.
You can help. Educate yourself. Spread the word. Volunteer. Read, and work to ensure that the students in your life have ready access to books in the summer and are themselves encouraged to read. Together, we can put a stop to summer learning loss for all our young people!