The great summer bummer

summer learning


Startling research shows that kids lose more ground academically over the summer than one might expect. In fact, summers are arguably one of the least recognized yet most important causal factors for underachievement in schools.

This 2011 RAND study found that by the end of summer, students perform, on average, one month behind where they left off in the spring. Sadly, this loss disproportionately affects low-income students. Most disturbing is that the loss is cumulative; low-income students fall farther behind each year as a result of summer break.

Some reformers argue that this loss is entirely preventable though one simple act: abolish summer vacation. They say the 180-day school calendar creates a terribly inefficient system of learning. According to Jeff Smink of the New York Times, “We cannot afford to spend nearly 10 months of every year devoting enormous amounts of intellect, energy, and money to promoting student learning and achievement, and then walk away from that investment every summer.”

At Brain Chase we share that belief, but take issue with the idea of abolishing summer vacation. Summer break is a long standing cultural tradition—one that many families look forward to all year. Through travel, trips to the museum, recreation, camps, and fun with friends and siblings, children and teenagers have the opportunity to learn and have experiences that are not possible during busy school days.

That said, parents need to be smarter about how to enrich summertime academically to prevent learning loss. According to the RAND report, good summer programs with individualized instruction and parental involvement can make a huge difference. We’ve set up Brain Chase as a company with an explicitly social mission—stemming the problem of summer learning loss for all children. This report from the Afterschool Alliance found that only 25 percent of America’s schoolchildren participate in summer programs, but the parents of an estimated 24 million children would enroll their children in summer programs if they could. The goal of Brain Chase is to bring engaging, effective, highly adventurous summer learning to those 24 million children. Summer learning loss is a big problem, but on the bright side, it doesn’t have to be.