How summer increases the achievement gap

As I was visiting a school in Delaware last month, an elementary school principal ushered me over to his computer to show me a graph that distressed him. It traced how one of his students, who came from a poor family, had progressed over the course of two years.

A test taken in September of the previous school year was a low point. Then, the student’s achievement level leapt upward in remarkable increments, to a high point in the spring. But by the next fall, the student’s achievement level had sunk again, back toward the point where he had started the previous year.

The principal named the culprit: Summer.

Much of the discussion about the wide discrepancies in educational achievement between poor and affluent students is focused on what schools and teachers should be doing to close it. But researchers are gathering more evidence suggesting that summer—when students are typically out of contact with their schools and teachers—is one of the root causes of the gap.

At the Education Writers Association annual conference last week, a panel of researchers and educators, moderated by Education Week’s assistant managing editor-online, Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, discussed how summer affects student learning, and what to do about it.

“When kids return to school in the fall, on average they’ve slipped by about a month from where they were in the spring,” said Catherine Augustine, a senior policy researcher at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research group, and co-author of a report released last year on summer learning programs. But, she added, the averages mask significant differences between poor children’s summer learning loss compared to that of their wealthier peers.

More advantaged children tend to stay at the same achievement level, or even make gains, over the course of the summer, Augustine said: “They’re reading, they’re being read to, they’re going to fancy camps.”

In contrast, poor children fall far behind. “Low-income kids are less likely to be going to those camps,” she said. “They’re more likely to be playing video games, watching TV, and staying indoors, particularly if they live in unsafe neighborhoods.”

She added that the discrepancies between the two groups are perpetuated summer after summer, helping to increase the achievement gap as children grow older. (She also noted, however, that both low-income and high-income children lose ground in math over the summer during the elementary school years.)

The panelists did not necessarily recommend year-round school, however. Many parents dislike the idea, and there is still little research on whether cutting out summer vacation entirely actually helps shrink the achievement gap.

Instead, schools and community groups should work together to create programs that are both fun and educational, said Gary Huggins, CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. Rather than being “remedial and punitive,” he suggested school districts create programs that low-income students actually want to attend.

“It’s not just about more school,” Huggins said. “Programs have to be engaging and innovative.”

Ideally, he suggested, summer school might become a laboratory for experimental strategies—like hands-on activities, field trips, theme-based curricula and Socratic teaching methods—that schools can also incorporate into the regular academic year.

Kathryn LeRoy, who oversees the extended summer learning program for the Duval County Public Schools in Florida, said her district is already doing some of that experimentation. Using federal funds, the Duval district, which encompasses Jacksonville, expanded and renamed its summer school program “The Superintendent’s Academy.” Administrators then conducted walks through local public housing projects to recruit low-income families. The program, which targets struggling students, now includes music, dance, physical education, field trips and partnerships with local camps, not just reading and math classes, LeRoy said.

So far, the schools with students involved in the program have seen remarkable gains, she added, going from Ds and Fs on their state report card to As and Bs. “Our gut tells us that summer absolutely had a part to play in the achievement we’re seeing in in those elementary schools,” she said.


POSTED BY ON May 24, 2012

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Quick Hits (5.24.12)

[...] Garland recaps a conversation from last week’s Education Writers Association conference on how achievement gaps widen during summer breaks and what educators can do to curb it. (Hechinger [...]

Karen Blackwell

I am retiring but I would like to continue to receive the publication.

Will Fitzhugh

Since 1987, The Concord Review has published 1,022 exemplary history research papers (average 6,000 words) by high school students from 46 states and 38 other countries. See samples on http://www.tcr.org or write Will Fitzhugh, Editor, at fitzhugh@tcr.org

Annabelle Howard

In CT we are fortunate because People’s United Community Foundation gave my non-profit a grant to offer our motivational online learning community to the whole state for free :) An additional 10,000 students have been signed up. We have live statewide scoreboards to show how hard everyone is working. Prizes for the hard working students, too. A graduate student is going to make a short documentary about it. We’d love you to write about this first-in-the nation statewide initiative.

Richard Allington

Anne McGill-Franzen and I received the Albert J Harris Award from the International Reading Association this year for our study of summer reading loss (Allington, R. L., McGill-Franzen, A. M., et al. (2010). Addressing summer reading setback among economically disadvantaged elementary students. Reading Psychology, 31(5), 411-427). We found that simply providing children from low-income families with 15 self-selected books for the summer eliminated summer reading loss. Over the course of the three summer study poor children who received the free books actually gained almost half of a year in reading growth while the control group children, who did not get books, actually lost a similar amount of reading growth over the same time period. We could eliminate summer reading loss then but it will mean schools serving low-income children will need to figure out how to books in their hands for summer reading.

John Bennett

I’m sure most (but not all) readers of this piece are familiar with the research of Karl Alexander and colleagues at The Johns Hopkins University that began in 1992 and continues on the impact of summers on education levels / gaps. A nice short two-page PDF overview is available at http://www.summerlearning.org for those not familiar with that research. I find the conclusions compelling!

John Bennett
| Golden Apple of New Mexico

[...] gap between middle and low-income students to the learning lost during summer.  According to the Hechinger Education blog, though much of the response to the achievement gap focuses on what teachers and schools should do, [...]

LRE TEACHERS

sharing an article that helps undersdtand our students when they return the following year

LRE TEACHERS

sharing an interesting article

[...] Much of the discussion about the wide discrepancies in educational achievement between poor and affluent students is focused on what schools and teachers should be doing to close it. But researchers are gathering more evidence suggesting that summer—when students are typically out of contact with their schools and teachers—is one of the root causes of the gap. http://hechingered.org/content/how-summer-increases-the-achievement-gap_5072/ [...]

[...] In contrast, poor children fall far behind. “Low-income kids are less likely to be going to those camps,” she said. “They’re more likely to be playing video games, watching TV, and staying indoors, particularly if they live in unsafe neighborhoods.”                                                                     http://hechingered.org/content/how-summer-increases-the-achievement-gap_5072/#.T8A953dQ9tY.email [...]

[...] How summer increases the achievement gap is from HechingerEd. [...]

Bob

And just where are districts to get the extra funding when ALL funding sources are being trimmed and our budgets cut below operating levels?

Cheri Izbicki

The great state of Texas should consider sending ALL “state funded” preK students to summer school to include income students to limit the achievement and opportunity gaps in their learning!

The summer slide | Education Speaks

[...] How summer increases the achievement gap [...]

[...] More June 7th, 2012 | Category: Uncategorized | Leave a comment [...]

[...] more check out: HechingerEd Blog | How summer increases the achievement gap. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Tags Education, family [...]

[...] the idea that all students should have equal access to summer learning programs, believes he has a solution to this problem. He says that schools and community groups need to work together in an effort to make programs that [...]

[...] disengagement. Studies have shown that the summer months can account for the vast majority of the disparity between learning differences between disadvantaged students and their wealthier peers. While these [...]

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