How the Summer Slump Widens the Achievement Gap

By Melissa Pelletier, June 2019

(Originally written and published on the blog in June 2019 – now archived)

The issues that summer recess can present for students and their families are something we aim to address by providing summer services to school districts. The summer slump is real and especially worse for families with socioeconomic disadvantages. Childcare and/or summer enrichment programs are unfortunately out of reach for many. Gathering ideas for how to spend the summer affordably, which incorporates learning activities, reading, and structured adult guidance is important for planning a productive break. 

When socioeconomic issues are stacked against families with the best intentions, what are children to do with an entire summer of unstructured time? Or worse, what if they are not supervised at all? For many children, opportunities to use the skills they learned in school, or to gain new knowledge are not consistent and learning gains may be diminished. This common issue has contributed to the achievement gap, which is an ongoing problem in America.

What Does The Achievement Gap Look Like?

When we think of the term “achievement gap,” we may think of test score differences between minorities and white or Asian students. However, according to the National Education Association, the achievement gap in test scores can be seen among many different groups with different qualities. Some issues are simply age or gender-related, like boys versus girls in early education programs, and girls in upper-level math or science courses, who may show significant differences in test scores.  Furthermore, score disparities can be seen among different demographics (ethnic, racial, gender, disability, and income, for example) in large-scale standardized tests. Test score gaps often lead to longer-term gaps, including high school and college retention, and ultimately their career prospects. 

A report by New America, How Parents Find, Manage, and Pay for Childcare When School is Out, presents results from a survey conducted with over 1300 parents of school-aged children.  In the year 2017, among children aged 4 to 14, 44% of families had one parent staying home providing care, and 26% had a child in “day camp.” A surprising 17% of children were left home alone. Among the children who did have adult supervision, the nature of their summer activities was largely unknown, but the assumption is that being enrolled in some kind of program provided opportunities for engagement and productivity that counteracts the summer slump. 

Among those who enrolled their children in a summer program, 46% reported that it was “very hard or somewhat hard” to afford the program. The study concluded that “…costs are disproportionately borne by lower-wage and larger families who must be extra diligent, forward-looking, and resourceful to find and access what subsidized camps and care exist, if any, in their community.” 

Non-Profits And Online Education Providers Can Help

Luckily, some non-profit organizations like the National Summer Learning Association have emerged due to these challenges. The NSLA is a national, non-profit organization focused on the “powerful impact of one achievable goal: investing in summer learning to help close the achievement gap.” NSLA conducts research, supports advocacy, provides training and guidance, as well as working to change policies that have the ability to make summer a less stressful and expensive time for many of America’s neighborhoods and communities. They shine a light on summer learning loss and give educators, community organizations, legislators, and even parents the tools to make impactful changes. Check out their list of events that feature low-cost summer programs by area, as well as the number of students served by these programs.

Academic inequity does not take a summer vacation, as the CEO of iTutor, Harry Aurora explains in his most recent article at InnovateLI. He states that all students, regardless of their economic situation, should start the school year on equal footing with their peers.

When considering their options, parents and schools should consider summer online tutoring programs. These programs “enable schools to provide students with the summertime structure needed to accomplish goals and navigate academic milestones set by classroom teachers so that students arrive in September ready to take on the new school year.”

Online programs “often take place in the student’s own home, making it much easier for students in rural or socioeconomically depressed areas to access educational programs.” iTutor’s online educational programs, for instance, provide remote access to state-certified teachers – access that might not otherwise be available or affordable, providing opportunities for strengthening the summertime connections between schools and students. 

No matter what their circumstances, children should be able to begin the school year without learning losses with the help of educational or enrichment programs. What is needed is the continued acknowledgment of the achievement gap and efforts that lead to workable solutions.

Download our new white paper, The Summer Slump: What Can Schools Do to Fill the Time and Prevent the Slide, and learn how to help students retain their skills over the summer break and make the most of their first few weeks back in the new school year.