Fighting Summer Learning Loss

College & Career Readiness, Parent & Family Engagement | 06/04/2015

Lauren Sandherr
National Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Lauren manages the execution of Stand's marketing projects and hopes to bring needed attention to education issues.

Summer evokes a lot of memories and images: ice cream at the park, splashing in the pool, riding your bike down the street to meet friends. Fireflies, grilling, playing ball. Summer experiences are a pretty good illustration of the American Dream.

Another part of the American Dream? A great education that lays the foundation for a successful future. Unfortunately, summer also brings with it summer learning loss (or summer brain drain, as some call it), which can leave a pretty huge lesion on that great education. According to a Johns Hopkins University study, summer learning loss may account for nearly two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income students and their middle and high-income peers. While the latter travel, attend camp and enrichment programs, and visit museums, the former are often limited to whatever they can find to do around their home or neighborhood.

Just how large is the detrimental effect of summer learning loss?*

  • On average, students – regardless of socioeconomic background – lose about 2.6 months of math computational skills over the summer and over a month of spelling learning skills.
  • Low-income students lose 2 - 3 months of reading skills over the summer, compared to their higher-income peers, who actually make small gains.
  • Teachers often spend as much as 6 weeks re-teaching material lost over the summer, which eats up valuable classroom time at the beginning of the school year.
  • Students’ test scores decreased by over a month’s worth of learning when tested in the fall as compared to their scores in the previous spring.
  • Summer learning loss compounds over time, meaning that by the end of elementary school, low-income students may be as many as 3 grade levels behind their higher-income peers. And this gradually gets worse going up through high school.

So what can we do about it? Until education policy changes to keep up with the needs of our nation’s students, this is an effort that is largely on parents to tackle. Fortunately, there are numerous resources out there that aim to reduce summer learning loss that can guide parents in the right direction.

  • Most public libraries offer age-appropriate summer reading lists, like these at Tacoma Public Library, and they have youth librarians that are happy to help children choose books within their interests. Several also have summer reading programs and contests, like this one in Portland, OR.
  • Some community organizations have summer learning and enrichment programs. Boys and Girls Club of America has a very effective program called Summer Brain Gain, a series of one-week, age-appropriate modules with various activities and lessons centered around a fun theme. Others include the Boston Summer Learning Project and Camp Phoenix.
  • Certain cities have databases of free summer enrichment activities, classes, and events. In Chicago, this tool allows you to search by age, location, and topic for places students can get a learning experience perfectly suited to them.
  • Online, several websites, articles, and resources exist that can help parents help their children retain knowledge and keep learning over the summer. The National Summer Learning Association contains Q&A with researchers studying the issue, resources for organizations and programs trying to fight summer learning loss, a huge library of research, and more. The Huffington Post has dozens of articles ranging from ways to create active summer readers all the way to how parents can also learn over the summer, setting the stage for their children.

Preventing summer learning loss is a battle in which we can all partake. Advocate for policy, volunteer at a community program or event, do math puzzles and writing exercises with the kids in your life. Let’s do what we can to close the gap in between all the popsicles and Four Square games.


*Statistics from studies by K. Alexander, D. Entwisle, L. Olson, and H. Cooper.

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