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Climbing Back From the Summer Slide: A New School Year of Expanded Learning

Katie Brohawn

Katie Brohawn directs research for ExpandED Schools.

As another summer comes to a close, some are reflecting back fondly on these past two months – months they filled with vacations, barbecues, camps and overall longer, lazier days. However, on a less sunny note, it’s important to remind ourselves that in the 6,000 hour learning gap we talk about so much, 1,080 of those hours come in the form of lost learning opportunities in the summer. 

By adding 2.5 hours of enriched, balanced curriculum to each day (that’s 450 extra hours each school year), we give students the time and opportunity they need to improve academic and life outcomes—preparing them to be on track to graduate from high school ready for college and career. (Click to enlarge)

For millions of parents, summer means scrambling to find childcare for those many more hours where their kids are left home alone, unsupervised. Middle-class children are eight times more likely to enjoy camp or another summer learning opportunity than children born into poverty. Not surprisingly, less exposure to learning opportunities (be them formal or informal) = less learning.

The concept of summer learning loss is far from being breaking news. In fact, research over 100 years old has documented this phenomenon (White, 1906). However, it’s not the fact that students lose ground in learning over the summer that is especially noteworthy – it’s the degree to which that loss is compounded for our most vulnerable students. Here are some statistics I hope you find as staggering as I do: 

  • Low-income youth lose more than two months in reading achievement [during the summer], despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains” (Cooper et al., 2006)

  • More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college” (Alexander et al., 2007) 

  • “Two-thirds of the ninth grade reading achievement gap in reading between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years” (Alexander et al, 2007)

But just as research has proven that less exposure to learning opportunities = less learning, luckily the converse is true. As our students get ready to kick off a new school year filled with an additional 1,600 hours of rich learning experiences compared to a traditional school day, we look forward to working towards closing all of these gaps—and having fun in the process! 





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