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Posted at 11:51 AM ET, 06/21/2010

Preventing summer learning loss

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Ron Fairchild, chief executive officer of the non-profit organizationNational Summer Learning Association.

By Ron Fairchild
There’s been a lot of buzz lately around the problem of summer learning loss and how providing free books may help minimize the backsliding that many disadvantaged children experience during the summer break.

First Lady Michelle Obama talked about this issue recently when she helped launch a new initiative that highlights the need for learning opportunities and physical activity for children during the summer months. And USA Today recently described research findings on the effectiveness of providing a selection of books to students in the early grades as they head home for the summer.

Today, the first day of summer, parents and community organizations are celebrating National Summer Learning Day by working together on safe and meaningful options for kids when they are not in school.

A century of empirical evidence confirms a pattern of summer learning loss, particularly for low-income children.

One of the most prominent studies, led by Johns Hopkins University researcher Karl Alexander, found that the learning loss in low-income children is cumulative throughout elementary school. By 9th grade, he concluded, it accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading between these children and better-off students, and made a difference in whether they dropped out of school or graduated.

What we learned from these studies is that high-quality summer programs combining engaging lessons and enriching experiences can help these children stay on track for the academic challenges ahead.

That will make a big difference in preparing students to become productive workers and taxpayers and in making sure our economy has the skilled workforce it needs. Having such a well-educated workforce will enable our country to compete economically internationally.

Improving access to books for those children who don’t have any at home is a great first step in addressing the “summer slide” and could contribute to closing the persistent and widenening achievement gap.

But to suggest that sending a struggling student home with “a $50 stack of books” is as effective as a good summer learning program, as one recent article put it, is incredibly shortsighted. Many children also need, and most would benefit from, instructional support in their reading and other subjects, as well as more active and engaging opportunities for learning and growing during the summer.

Summer vacation is a time of huge academic setbacks for many poor children, and not just in reading. While other children are attending camps, visiting museums, and participating in enriching activities with both peers and adults, many children from low-income families are falling further behind academically, socially, and even nutritionally.

Making sure that every child has the opportunity to do well in school benefits us all.

As Mrs. Obama said in her remarks to launch the "United We Serve: Let’s Read, Let’s Move" effort on June 8, “A lot of kids sometimes find that they forget some of the things that they learned throughout the school years, and as a result, if they stop learning through the summer, they can fall behind and then they’re struggling throughout the year.”

That initiative will focus on community service as a way to support children throughout the summer, calling on Americans to volunteer with programs that focus on reading and healthy lifestyles for children. Such a campaign, combined with a range of strategies including access to books and community resources and high-quality summer learning programs, can make a dent in the problem of summer learning loss and put more children on the path to academic success.


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By Valerie Strauss  | June 21, 2010; 11:51 AM ET
Categories:  Learning  | Tags:  how to prevent summer learning loss, michelle obama, preventing summer learning loss, summer learning, summer reading  
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Mr. Fairchild, thank you so much for highlighting the vital role real-world enrichment plays in education. Too often, educators are told that the answer to the achievement gap is to increase the hours disadvantaged children spend doing exercises in reading and math. As a result, these children continue to miss out on the real-world experiences that help school make sense. The rich get richer, while the poor do worksheets.

That’s why our nonprofit, Big Learning, is dedicated to making sure all kids get a healthy dose of hands-on, real-world learning. Parents and teachers can find hundreds of free activities on our web site (, and we recently introduced our Big Learning KID curriculum (“Toymaking” and “Building Big and Small”) for summer and afterschool programs.
-Dr. Karen A. Cole
Executive Director, Big Learning

Posted by: kc0896 | June 21, 2010 2:50 PM | Report abuse

What "meaningful options" did your boss arrange for you during your last vacation?

If children need their activities directed every day of the year, then let's put them in school every day of the year. Of course, the schools would have to be changed greatly, since it is only the thought summer vacation that enables a lot of kids to tolerate school, and as it stands we would have a generation of youngsters who knew nothing of the world outside their neighborhood because they hadn't traveled, and a generation without any professional musicians because there was no time for summer camp, and a generation without any money because they had no time for summer jobs. (If it hadn't been for sitting in on my mother's college classes, my brother and I might very well have dropped out of school.)

Of course, lower-income youngsters should have access to the sort of summer activities better-off parents purchase for their youngsters. But do not give students assignments to be done during their

Posted by: sideswiththekids | June 22, 2010 9:18 AM | Report abuse

These are my suggestions for preventing summer learning loss.

Alexis Avila
Prepped & Polished

Posted by: preppedandpolished | June 22, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

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