Taking a Lesson from Teachers to Avoid Summer Learning Loss

Written by: Amy Auletto

Primary Source:  Green & Write, May 3, 2017

While the Green & Write blog will soon be taking a break until the fall, teachers will be hard at work this summer. A common myth about the teaching profession is that teachers spend the summer months relaxing, but this is rarely the case. About half of teachers report working during the summer months, often teaching summer school or tutoring. Teachers also spend their summer completing coursework towards master’s degrees, participating in professional development, and preparing for the following school year. Teachers in Michigan, for example, are required to complete State Continuing Education Clock Hours (SCECH) and many rely on the summer months to schedule college classes and other training opportunities to keep their teaching certificates current. Advanced Placement (AP) instructors who teach college-level courses to high school students also participate in additional workshops and summer institutes during summer vacation. Given all of the professional activities that teachers participate in during the summer, they are ready to hit the ground running the following school year.


Combating Brain Drain

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Students, on the other hand, do not typically use their summer vacation time quite as productively as their teachers. Brain drain, also referred to as summer learning loss, refers to skills that students lose during summer vacation when they are away from school. A review of research on summer learning loss found that students lose at least a month’s worth of learning in both math and reading, with low-income students suffering the worst effects. Because summer learning loss disproportionately impacts poor students, it may also be a significant contributor to the achievement gap. Outcomes for all students are worse in math than reading and researchers suggest that this is because books and other reading materials are more readily available in students’ homes than math resources. Summer learning loss is problematic because teachers must spend each fall getting their students caught up instead of beginning with new material.

There are a number of strategies to prevent students from falling behind over the summer. Families can take a lesson from teachers on how to most effectively use the summer months for enrichment. While costly summer camps and other activities may not be accessible to all families, there are plenty of free ways to combat brain drain. Taking trips to the public library, family game nights, and getting children involved in cooking are just a few ways that parents can ensure their students’ minds stay active over the summer and ready for the following school year. There are also a number of summer programs that provide financial assistance or are available at no cost.


Moving Toward a More Balanced School Year 

Shortening summer vacation is another solution to summer learning loss. The National Association for Year-Round Education recommends a more balanced school year, where summer vacation lasts only 30 days and other school breaks are lengthened. For example, Spring Break and Winter Break might each be 15 days and a Fall Break would also be added to the calendar. In this scenario, the school year would still last about 180 days, but students would not spend too long away from the classroom at any given point during the year, preventing harmful learning loss from occurring.

As described in a previous Green & Write post, Michigan legislators are currently looking into relaxing the state’s restrictions on the school calendar. Currently, Michigan requires school to begin after Labor Day, so as not to interfere with the tourist industry. Some districts in Michigan, however, have sought waivers to shorten their summer vacations, but this is not currently the norm in the state.

Although it is certainly important for students to have time to play and relax this summer, spending ten to twelve weeks away from the classroom is too long. If parents ensure that their children participate in as many learning and enrichment opportunities as teachers do during the summer, students will be ready for next school year.

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Amy Auletto
Amy Auletto is a doctoral student in Educational Policy. She is interested in the impact that equitable funding and access to effective teachers have on the educational outcomes of disadvantaged student populations. Prior to beginning her studies at Michigan State University, she taught middle school math in Detroit. Amy earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, master of Social Work, and MA in educational studies from the University of Michigan.