Education News

As Summer Starts, Learning Loss and the Achievement Gap Grows

The summer months are when low-income students fall behind their peers.

Researchers as far back as 1906 have been documenting the learning loss that takes place when kids spend the summer months out of the classroom. It’s estimated that most kids lose about two months of math skills over the summer. But Sarah Pitcock with the National Summer Learning Association says low-income kids also lose about two months of reading skills.

“Those two months accumulate over time. They add up year after year because the young people don’t catch back up during the school year,” Pitcock said. “So that results in making a significant contribution to the achievement gap.”

In fact, that accumulation adds up to about a two and a half year gap between low-income and middle-income students by the end of the fifth grade. That’s because while low-income students lose reading skills, middle and high-income students actually make gains in reading.

“Because there is no dedicated federal funding for summer learning programs, there’s often no one place to look to for the summer learning solution or the coordination in the community,” Pitcock said.

Parents are often left to figure out the solution on their own, and that’s if they’re even aware of the problem to begin with. Paul McEntire is the chief operating officer for the YMCAs of Greater Houston. He says they care for about 60,000 children a week in their day camps and they’ve made it a point to incorporate more academic elements into the summer program.

“So we’ve begun to embed, over the last couple of years, a lot more academic focus. Our day campers all read at various times for 30 minutes each day. And we are developing, here in Houston with the Children’s Museum, a science program that this summer will serve 300 students. We served 900 during this past school year,” McEntire said.

McEntire says most organizations that work with children are trying to address summer learning loss, though there’s not a cohesive Houston-wide strategy right now. One solution that’s gaining popularity among educators, though not necessarily with legislators, is doing away with the summer break altogether. 

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Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Newscaster

Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Laurie has covered a wide variety of topics for HPM, including the crash of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, and numerous elections. She is a frequent contributor to NPR and has been...

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