Stamping Out Summer Learning Loss


When we think of summer, many of us think of a much-needed break - a time out from learning. We conjure up images of lazy sunny days filled with lemonade, fresh air, and freedom. What we fail to recognize is how important ongoing learning and skill practice are to the development and achievement of children and young adults, both in school and in life. Summer learning loss, defined as the loss of academic skill and knowledge over the course of summer vacation, is real, widespread, and profound. Research spanning 100 years shows that all young people experience learning losses when they do not engage in educational activities over the summer. More concerning, however, is the effect of summer learning loss on the achievement gap. During the school year, both better-off and disadvantaged youth make similar achievement gains, but disadvantaged youth fall significantly behind during the summer months, as they struggle to access educational opportunities. This is known as the “faucet theory” - learning resources are turned on for all children during the school year, resulting in comparable gains, but in the summertime, faucets are turned off. There are significant differences between the resources and opportunities that middle-income families and communities can offer their children and what lower-income families and communities can offer. Thus, poor children enter school each fall in a disadvantaged position. Two startling findings stand out: first, while most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months, low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains (Cooper, 1996). In addition, more than half the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities. As a result, low-income youth are less likely to graduate from high school or enter college (Alexander et al, 2007).

So how do we keep the faucet turned on for all students to combat summer learning loss and narrow the achievement gap? Solutions range from year-round school to summer reading initiatives and free books. Over the last few years, however, a new model of summer programs has developed that differs from traditional summer schools or camps. Academic Enrichment programs combine high-quality curricula with traditional youth development programs. Numerous studies on the effectiveness of these summer enrichment programs hugely encouraging, indicating that "carefully designed and implemented summer programs combining the best of youth development and academic enrichment can make a difference in preventing summer learning loss” (Miller, 2007).

We at The Graide Network are excited and encouraged that these summer programs are stymying summer learning loss, and are pleased to share that one such Summer Enrichment program will be taking place this summer at Henderson Collegiate! We recently caught up with Robin Kendall, the Director of Recruitment, and she told us more about their Summer Enrichment Program:

What is the primary goal of the 11-day summer enrichment program? What does a typical day look like for the students?  The goal is to make sure our most emerging students enter the next school year with their skills sharp, so they can be successful. Specifically, we focus on math and reading skills for students who struggled in their previous year. The added practice and instruction in these areas during the summer gives our students a chance to head into their next school year running, rather than stumbling as they begin the year.

How long have you been running the summer enrichment program at Henderson? What results have you seen from the students? We have run it every year we have existed (6 years) with the exception of one year where the logistics did not work out. We have seen students who feel confident at the conclusion of the program and then are able to enter their year and have a strong first quarter and foundation to their school year

Why is summer enrichment so important for your students? Summer learning loss affects students in low-income areas much more than their economically advantaged peers. Our most emerging students are imputed even more. Therefore, we cannot allow students who already struggle to go the entire summer without sharpening their skills. We know if we do not intervene during the summer, our students who struggled the previous year will continue to have difficulty and the cycle will continue of them barely making it to the next grade. We need these students to enhance their skills during the summer to ensure they are on the path to college.

What are the students’ favorite part of the program? Any highlights? We track both students reading points earned through our AR program and their math skills through data from classes. Students' favorite parts usually center around the celebrations we have for those who meet their goals in these areas and demonstrate high growth in one of these areas.

Anything else you’d like to share about what makes the summer enrichment program so special and effective? From a teacher development perspective, in addition to returning teachers, we invite our new hired to help with the program. They have a chance to observe, practice small aspects of teaching, learn the systems of the school, and build relationships with students before they officially start. This is extremely beneficial to helping to expedite the development of new teachers.

Henderson Collegiate is a high-performing charter school in Henderson, North Carolina, serving 86% low-income students and is in the top 2.8% of all North Carolina public schools.



  1. White, W. (1906). Reviews before and after vacation. American Education, 185-188.

  2. Heyns, Barbara. 1978. “Summer Learning and the effects of schooling”. Orlando, FL: Academic.Press.

  3. Alexander, K.L., D.R. Entwisle, and L.S. Olson. 2007. Lasting consequences of the summer learning gap. American Sociological Review 72:167-180.

  4. Cooper, H., B. Nye, K. Charlton, J. Lindsay, and S. Greathouse. 1996. The effects of summer vacation on achievement test scores: A narrative and meta-analytic review. Review of Educational Research 66 (3):227-268

  5. Downey, D., von Hippel, P., & Broh, B. 2004. “Are Schools the Great Equalizer? Cognitive Inequality during the Summer Months and the School Year.” American Sociological Review, 69 5, 613-635.

  6. Miller, Beth M, Ph.D. 2007. “The Untapped Power of Summer to Advance Student Achievement.” Nellie Mae Education Foundation, 15.