How Summer Puts Us All Just A Little Behind…

29Jul11

Okay, so I have to admit it: when I was a kid, from the time my feet hit the hallway of my school in September and throughout the rest of the academic year, all I would ever do is count down the days until it was summer. C’mon, you did it too. Don’t deny it. From September through to June, my head was filled with functions and formulas from Math classes, symbolism and sentence structure from English classed, and places and people from History classes…I couldn’t wait until I could just take a break.

Well, apparently, all of those summer breaks weren’t good for me. As it turns out, taking time off from school in the summer is one of the largest causes of underachievement in schools (or, so says The New York Times). I have to admit, when I first read that article, I peered over the title and scoffed at it and, to be honest, got a little annoyed as well. I mean, I had every summer off as a child and throughout university (which I loved because it wasn’t just 2 months away from school but 4!), and I think I turned out alright. Not only that, but so did every other North American my age and older, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the world from tipping off its axle. “Who cares what The New York Times has to say”, I thought, “What do they know anyway?”

And then I realised just how stupid that sounded and thought that perhaps they were right and I should enroll in some summer classes immediately as it’s only July and, clearly, I’ve already become stupider than I was in May.

After reading through the article, I became a bit of a believer. But, just to be sure that it was something real, I checked Wikipedia…because unless there’s a definition on Wikipedia, something can’t be trusted as a real thing, right? Turns out that summer learning loss is a real thing. It has a Wikipedia definition and everything.

There have been decades of research that has proven that summer holidays are the main contributing factor to underachievement through learning loss. Learning loss happens when a student walks away from his/her studies for a period of time and, subsequently, forgets large amounts of knowledge that was previously learned. When you think of the amount of knowledge a student gains throughout the academic year, the idea of losing even a small portion of it over the summer is, somewhat, disconcerting. The author of the New York Times’ article, Jeff Smink, puts it this way: “We cannot afford to spend nearly 10 months of every year devoting enormous amounts of intellect, energy, and money to promoting student learning and achievement, and then walk away from that investment every summer”.

Some of you may now be thinking, “Yeah, but is summer learning loss really such a big deal? I mean, come ON…let the kids have their summers off!” Well, to a certain extent, I agree with you, but then statistics have shown that “…learning loss is cumulative, summer to summer. It has a tremendous impact on students’ success, including high school completion, post secondary education, and workforce preparedness”. Kind of sounds like a bit of a big deal to me.

So, how do we prevent summer learning loss?

Well, several suggestions have been toyed with over the years, including eliminating summer breaks and spreading out those weeks of vacation throughout the entire year, but I’m not too sure that I like that idea. I mean, just stop for a minute and think about how that would feel…knowing that you will be in school continuously for the next 12 years of your life without a summer break. It sounds awful. However, if you replace the word “school” with “camp”, it suddenly becomes more do-able.

Many people are able to extend the school year for their children with educational camps, such as math camp, space camp, etc. (I have to be honest, I’m not sure I’d want to go to math camp, but space camp sounds pretty awesome). While I think these parents are wonderful for giving their children a bit of an edge for the coming academic year, I can’t help but think of the parents that do not have the funds to send their children to these camps in the summer. Studies have proven that children who continue their education throughout the year have a slight advantage over those who do not.

You wanna go to space camp...admit it.

When I was in university, each year, I couldn’t wait until April – it was the end of our academic year, and all of our exams were complete. It meant that I could relax for the next 4 months until it started all over again. At our college, we run classes that are year-round, which means that you are submersed in intense study for a significant period of time, yes, but you also graduate much sooner than most other students, thereby enabling you to become employed faster, which means you advance your career at a more significant rate, which means you are further ahead than most other students your age will be (we have obviously put a lot of thought into this in order to give our students the greatest advantage).

So, I have to ask: do you think that summer learning loss is worth it? Would you rather get further and further behind in your education each year but have your summers free, or would you rather study throughout the year to gain the most of your education and actually end up further along in life and your career at a younger age than the rest of your peers?

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27 Responses to “How Summer Puts Us All Just A Little Behind…”

  1. I definitely believe in summer learning loss. Also post-graduation learning loss. Also post-marriage learning loss. You and I might be able to overcome these challenges by never leaving the world of education or getting summers off.

    • Agreed. We will live our lives in school, hiding away in the libraries, and not a single piece of information that we’ve read will ever leave our minds.

      Brilliant. I’m in.

  2. I agree that it happens lots, but we need to remember we are talking about children. We have the rest of our lives for continuing education, seminars, webinars, etc. Let them have the summer off to go to the beach and be kids.
    If we supposedly forget so much over the summer what happens when these people graduate? Do they stop reading and learning? I hope not.

    • Yes, I completely understand where you’re coming from, Steve. I remember, when I was a kid, they were threatening to take away our summer holidays and I almost burst into tears over it. Summer holidays are about playing, exploring, and fun for kids. But, I think that the point of the NY Times article was that these summer learning losses are cumulative in that it perpetuates…and where do we stop? After primary school? Secondary school? College? They’re saying that it fosters poor habits in a child’s life that ultimately affects them into adulthood when they enter the workforce.

      I suppose they’re saying that they want to “level the playing field”, so to speak, as more affluent families are able to send their kids to educational camps or take them on educational trips, etc. and less fortunate families are unable to do so.

      But you’re right; if people stop reading and learning once they graduate college, then we’ve got some real issues here!

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  3. Now, I am not a college graduate or did I do well in school (my fault), but most of the brilliant minds of the past that I know of, not only didn’t go to school for the amount of time that kids do now, but also worked harder with necessary home life. Also, part of the most important education comes from home life and parents. Work ethic, learning to work hard at everything you do, becomes a growth in school ethics. We spend more and more on technology and buildings in our school and yet we have less graduation rates. brilliant minds were taught by candle light, with books, and ink well and pen, but most importantly the early lesson of work hard with the time you have, and the benefits will be most rewarding. My wife is a teacher of 18 years, and unfortunately the politics, poor teachers with tenure, and the allowing the students to run the schools instead of the teachers and administrators, is what makes our kids fail. Again, I’m not a well educated man, but I am a proud dad of two graduates from a private school, that went the same amount of days as public school students, their had a 100% graduation rate and much, much higher SAT and ACT scores on average. I know this was kind of long and preachy, sorry, and I don’t mind if you don’t post it, but I hope you do give it some thought. Thanks!

    • Of course I would post this comment! After all, that’s the entire point of a comments section, right? No matter what your opinion is, you have the right to say it and I appreciate every word. 🙂

      First of all, I do agree with you in that it is usually the quality of education that one receives which dictates the outcome of one’s results. I in no way mean to imply that public schools are below par (we do have many fantastic public schools here in Canada), but I do believe that private education has a bit of an edge. I think that when schools are able to run like businesses (output of a quality product, external third-party reviews, and dependent upon “customer satisfaction”, so to speak), they are able to run more efficiently and effectively. Again, I agree with you that summer holidays are not entirely to blame for children doing poorly in school, as there are many other factors involved, such as the No Child Left Behind rule which tends to push some students forward in their education before they are ready, thus edging the quality of their education into decline.

      But, I digress.

      I think that the idea that NY Times wants to put out there is that all parents should continue their child’s education throughout the year, and supplement the summer months with things like educational camps, trips to historical sites, etc. I suppose that if a parent neglects to do these things, it winds up being detrimental for the child. But what happens if a parent is unable to afford to do these things for their children? What are they to do in order to give their children an edge?

  4. Thank you for posting it and I like when people debate their opinions, calm and with reason and you bring up great points. I agree that in the end parents are the answer, no government or teacher can replace parents discipline and love, and there is a need for church, community and yes even government help for those without parents. But and you knew there would be a but, I honestly think that money has very little to do with further education, I do think it has more to do with quality time spent with a child, whether it be during the school year or afterwards, church camps, scouts, big brothers, big sisters programs, but still most important, parents. Thanks again for allowing this small town dad voice an opinion and I do appreciate yours.

    • Well, I think you are dead on when you say it’s about quality time as opposed to money. Perhaps parents are putting too much pressure on the educational system to essentially raise their children these days? I think that if you are a truly invested parent, you are able to surpass the financial limitations and surround your child with quality educational material….after all, books aren’t that expensive, are they?? And, as you’ve suggested, there are great programmes that further a child’s education, such as church camps, big brother/sister programmes, etc.

      You are a very wise man, and I’m so grateful that you dropped by to share your wisdom! 🙂 Thank you so much!

      • 9 Sugar Peep

        Books may be a little pricey, but there are always second-hand used stores, yard sales, and cheap online sales. Additionally, there is a resource that is available to everyone: the library. Until all public libraries are shut down and privatized (which I hope isn’t soon, as I work in one!) children have access in the summer to library books and programs.

        Additionally, some schools in our area (MD) have started doing a “Lunch and Learn” program where they offer free lunch, an educational activity with other children, and they leave with a free book. I think it is really great. Especially in addition to our summer reading programs and activities.

        I do agree that some knowledge is definitely lost over the summer, but to eradicate summer breaks altogether would be counter-productive, in my opinion, because then the children would burn out. They will have to work hard enough the rest of their lives, they deserve at least a few weeks off. However, year-round school could offer several three-week breaks and that would probably encourage the time to relax, without the huge two to three month gap.

        As a Mom & college student, I must say I love the 4 month break, but getting back “into the routine” in the Fall is always a challenge for a week or two. I much prefer taking just one class in the summer semester in order to keep myself “in the school mode” as just one class allows for time to relax.

      • Yes, I certainly hope that libraries will not shut down or become privatized as I believe this would be detrimental to a student’s learning; not just in the summer but throughout the entire year. I am SO glad that you added that several schools in your area are doing the “Lunch and Learn” programme as I hope that it inspires other districts to do the same; kudos to MD for doing so! 🙂

        Out of everyone that I’ve spoken to on this matter, you are the only one who has used the terminology “the children would burn out”; it may sound rather harsh, but perhaps more accurate than most other words we may use to describe a lack of summer break. There have been many talks within our province about school years running throughout the entire year, and as brutal as it may sound that children may not have that time off, they would used the same number of weeks to spread out the break throughout the year, thus reducing summer learning loss….it may be a viable option in the end.

        Thanks so much for dropping in and commenting, Sugar Peep! Your thoughtful and intelligent comment is sure to get plenty of people thinking and talking! 🙂

  5. 11 alex

    I do have the experience about summer learning loss. For instance, i could not image the way to solve a math formula which i did before summer holiday.Now i’m a software engineer, seems like the same thing happens to me sometime.Maybe it’s just one of feature of the human being!:)

    • Yes, I think almost everyone has experienced summer loss in that capacity…I still can’t solve math formulas…lol.

      Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting, Alex! 🙂

      • 🙂

  6. how i comment? i just like your picture, im sorry

    • Haha…well thanks very much!

  7. When I was in school back in the sixties and seventies, the school systems in Maryland were discussing year round education, I hated the idea back then. However being an adult changed my point of view.

    If they were going to change the system around I would like to see education changed to a quarterly system much like many colleges do now. But I think that one quarter should be dedicated to things that pertain to life and the environment rather then just Math, English, History, you get the point. I see so many young people who have even graduated college and still don’t have a clue as to a home mortgage works. They don’t know how to invest, and many of them even with a degree, don’t know what life path they would like to take.

    And finally, someone has to come up with a way to make education more fun, I was bored to death from Kindergarten all the way through 12th grade.
    Thanks for this post. 🙂

    • Yes, I think that perhaps you`re right; we need to dedicate more time to teaching practical skills within our educational system. In the past, I`ve seen several students graduate from college and university that have little or no knowledge of how the world actually works.

      Thanks for dropping by and commenting! 🙂

  8. I think there is merit to this article but we should also consider the fact that many students get jobs during the summer and THAT can be an education of its own. After all, one of the reasons for school is to help get a good job. Well, having a job will take up more of their life than education will so working during the summer could potentially be very beneficial.

    The things learned on the job will go with them into their careers. A place where they will spend more of their life than school. Here they will learn accountability, responsibility, maybe teamwork and organization, budgeting-if you don’t have any money you do not need to budget it, and many other skills that will help them achieve success.

    Also, in the areas where agriculture is huge, the kids typically help on the family farm. Many of those kids end up taking over that farm when older. So the “education” learned while helping (on farm) during the summer is crucial to the later success of that farm once it belongs to them.

    Many kids depend on the money earned during the summer as their parents might not be able to buy cars and other things for them.

    Perhaps when the kids are in elementary school the summer breaks could be shorter or even non-existent, but when they are old enough to work there may need some tweaking.

    I think school work programs for summer would be great. Especially if employers got a credit or something from the Gov, so it did not have to come from their own pocket.

    Interesting topic.

    • I absolutely agree with you, Mitchell; however, there are many students nowadays that do not obtain summer employment during their high school years, and sometimes not even during the college years, and, unfortunately, do not continue to learn throughout the summer. My take on the article is that, due to this lack of ambition that younger students seem to have these days, many of the students are lacking in education throughout the summer months causing a decline in their ability to retain knowledge.

      It’s interesting that you believe that, perhaps, when children are younger is when summer breaks could be shorter rather than longer because many others believe the opposite in that they believe “kids should be kids”. I like that you have a different outlook on the matter.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting, Mitchell…it’s always appreciated. 🙂

      • Yeah, it would be nice for those who are NOT working during the summer to have the option to attend camps or summer school. I do think down time is disruptive to a child’s learning. I think we would see better grades and test scores if we shortened the break.

        Hmm, I was thinking that a young child would be least likely to work so they could attend school longer. Maybe more time with their family (during break) is best for their emotional development?

        This issue is definitely worth discussing. Taxes would have to go up though. But that is small price to pay.

        *sips maple syrup*

      • Not only do we drink maple syrup, but we only do it while watching hockey…remember that. 😉

  9. 22 Vayu

    Nice blog….offering niche information…..blog design is good…see my site at http://socioparivar.wordpress.com/spaceyaan/

    • Thanks very much, Vayu! I’ll be sure to check out your blog as well!

  10. I disagree with this. Summer holidays are a chance for students to de-stress and recuperate from a year of hard work. It makes you physically and emotionally ready to start it all over again.

    • Yes, there are many people that share this same viewpoint; they feel that students need some down time in order to “recover” from the academic year.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your input, Princesayasmine!

  11. I am from Australia and we have an education system with split holidays. Naturally, Dec to Feb ones are longer as our school term starts at the end of Feb. We have two week breaks in April, June and a longer one in Sept- October to prep for November exams. There are of course public holidays as well. So I don’t think kids would burn out. Other cultures take on different systems and survive.

    • Wow, you have several breaks throughout the year! I think that many people would agree with concept as it does not allow for students to have several months off at one given time, but will be given the same amount of time off throughout the year, on a broken basis (much like Australia). I think that you’re right; there are many other cultures who work on different systems and it does not do much harm. Here in North America, we always seem to be wanting to “get ahead” and work as hard as possible with little down time; I’m not convinced that that is such a great mentality. I think that you need to take several breaks throughout the year, whether from school or work, in order to just enjoy life! Perhaps we shouldn’t be pushing ourselves so hard to compete with everyone else…I think that Australia may very well have it pretty well balanced. 🙂

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!


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