I got an e-mail last week from my rising fifth grader's school coordinator with his summer reading assignments and an approved list of books. I loved that the e-mail offered no explanation or apologies; it assumed that its students' families knew the importance of summer learning.
The stagnation of a child's reading and math abilities during the off months of school has earned the catchy title of "summer slide." A study released last year from the Rand Corporation found that summer learning loss was cumulative, contributing to long-term academic deficiencies. The slower learning rate was most pronounced for low-income kids. Summer school classes, both mandatory and voluntary, helped to mitigate this effect, the study found.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants to go farther than that. He has suggested a longer academic school year to keep students' minds active and catch up to other countries in academic achievement. Kids in other countries spend 20 percent to 30 percent more time in school that our kids do, he says. Barring a longer school year, which costs money, the Education Department recently outlined several ways to keep a child engaged in reading during the summer months. The suggestions, such as keeping books around the house for easy reading, seem a weak substitute for longer school years or summer classes.
How serious is learning stagnation during the summer months? Are there good reasons for sticking with the current school 180-day year? If resources weren't an issue, what is the ideal amount of time a child should spend in school? How can educators make sure time isn't wasted during school hours? Are there other effective ways to stem "summer slide" other than summer school?