How much “learning” is lost during summer vacation?

In his book Outliers, one of the topics that Malcolm Gladwell explored was the academic achievement gap between kids from low income families and kids from higher incomes families … even for kids attending the same schools.


Malcolm uncovered  a learning dynamic that he coined the “summer slide”.


The Summer Slide

Simply stated, during their vacation, students naturally “forget” much of what they had learned in the prior school year.

The evidence: reading tests administered to elementary school kids in June when kids are leaving for the summer) and then again in September (when the new school year starts).

In general, scores dropped significantly between June and September … more so for kids from low income families … less so for kids from higher incomes families.


Why does this happen?

A couple of plausible explanations:

(1) Some learning “soft”.  That is, students kinda know the skill or knowledge but the “messages” aren’t deeply planted in their brains and get crowded out by other stimuli.

(2) Loss of “muscle memory”. Some skills need be reinforced and honed or they naturally atrophy.  That applies to brains as well as brawn.


So, why is the summer slide less pronounced for rich kids?

Simple answer: rich kids get more educational enrichment during the summer … they go to summer camps, take uplifting family vacations, read books (with or without parental involvement).

Said differently, if kids just hang out during the summer they lose any edge that they sharpened during the school year.

And, the loss is severe.

Studies indicate that, on average, students lose about a month’s worth of learning over the summer. And the losses are even greater among children in low-income households. Source

Gladwell concludes that “virtually all of the advantage that wealthy students have over poor students is the result of differences in the way privileged kids learn while they are not in school.”

That is, how they spend their weekends and summers.


So, what should parents do?

Don’t simply outsource your child’s education to the schools.

Provide them with constructive educational activities … and show commitment by engaging in those activities.

At a minimum, set up a summer reading program.

That’s a low cost bonding and  learning  experience that’s proven to mitigate the summer slide.


Follow on Twitter @KenHoma

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One Response to “How much “learning” is lost during summer vacation?”

  1. dkabell Says:

    Contrary data? “However, an analysis of the nationally-representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 2010 – 11 (ECLS-K:2011) found little evidence of overall loss over the summers after grades K and 1, and the summer socioeconomic status gaps widened in some subjects and grades but not others.[4] Von Hippel and Hamrock re-analyzed two earlier data sets and concluded that gaps “do not necessarily…grow fastest over the summer” (p.41)“ from:

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