Educators Seek Ways to Prevent Learning Losses During Vacation.

It's called "the summer brain drain" because during those long, hotmonths away from school, kids supposedly forget a lot of what they hadlearned in class. 

Research, however, tells a more nuanced story: Some learning is lost among some groups, and others gain.

Here's what experts from Johns Hopkins University, the University ofTennessee, the University of Virginia and elsewhere say happens overthe summer:

— Most students — regardless of family income or background –lose 2 to 2 1/2 months of the math computational skills that theylearned during the school year.

— Students from low-income homes lose two to three months in reading skills learned in the previous school year.

— Middle-class students make slight gains in reading achievement as measured on standardized tests.

Those findings suggest the obvious: that children lose math abilitywhen they don't use it and that middle-class students read more thanthose from poor families because they have more books at home. (Theresearch looked at middle-class kids, but similar results wouldpresumably be found in children from high-income families.)

It might seem as if students who lose two months of math skills needtwo months more to catch up. But educators say it's not that simple.

When it comes to reading, experts say, some kids make progress not only because they read more.

"Life experiences other than reading can lead to advantages in readingcomprehension," said Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of psychology atU-Va. who is an expert in cognition and the application of cognitiveprinciples to K-12 education. 

"If you don't have a reading problem or a problem with decoding . . .your ability to read a passage is dependent on having some relevantbackground knowledge," he said.

Such knowledge is related to the wide variety of summer experiencesfor many middle-class and affluent kids — in camp, on vacation, intheir own homes. The lack of resources for poor children in the summerhas big consequences, experts say.

"If we can eliminate the summer gap, we can close the longstandingachievement gap between richer and poorer kids," said RichardAllington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee andpast president of the International Reading Association. "Basically,even poor kids grow reading skills at about the same rate asmiddle-class kids, when they are in school." he said. "Two-thirds ofthe achievement gap occurs during the summers, not during the schoolyear."

Schools, libraries and nonprofit organizations also tend to placemore emphasis on summer reading than on mathematics, which explains inpart why kids across the socioeconomic spectrum lose ground in mathover the summer, said Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Centerfor Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins.

Another factor in the loss of math skills is thought to be thenature of the subject: Facts and knowledge based on specific proceduresare easier to forget than concepts. But Willingham said it is also truethat the nature of human memory means that students can re-learnrelatively quickly.

"Someone who loses 2 1/2 months of skills doesn't need 2 1/2 months to relearn it," he said.

Fairchild's center promotes quality summer programs for children,especially those who are less affluent. The center works with 5,000programs in all 50 states, aiming to provide academic and culturalenrichment, healthy meals and physical activity — elements to helpstudents succeed when they return to school. Healthy meals are not anafterthought. Research shows that most children gain weight in thesummer, an undesired outcome amid increased childhood obesity.

So for those parents who tell themselves that kids don't need to do anything academic during summer because, after all, they didn't themselves when they were young, and they turned out just fine, experts have this reply: Think again.


Source: Washington Post –