Student Achievement Opinion

School’s Out for Summer—And That’s a Problem

How the lack of affordable summer programs hurts students
By Christina K. Hanger — June 27, 2017 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Summer is upon us. Temperatures are rising, and so are parents’ anxiety levels. The widespread cultural memory of summer as a carefree time with children playing outside, family vacations at the beach, and picnics in the park is not the reality for most American families today. Currently, in 46 percent of two-parent households, both parents work full time—a proportion that has risen significantly over the past few decades. This leaves a large number of our children caring for themselves, parked in front of TV screens or video games, and therefore vulnerable to boredom, summer learning loss, and high-risk behavior. A majority of our families are scrambling to care for their children over the summer.

Our current summer education landscape has been in place since the 1930s. While many believe that summer vacation was important for rural families so that kids could help out on the farm, that is not historically accurate, according to historian Kenneth Gold’s 2002 book School’s In: A History of Summer Education in American Public Schools. During the early 1800s, school was primarily open during the winter and summer so that children could be available to help with spring planting and fall harvesting. In the late 1800s, as America became more industrialized, summer was designated as a time for family vacations and a break for students. Experts at the time worried about the stress and physical damage of too much mental exertion for children in school for long periods of time.

A shortage of affordable summer programs is hurting students, especially those from low-income families, says Christina K. Hanger.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that public summer school evolved into the model of remediation and credit recovery for students struggling academically that we would recognize today. As the number of households without a parent at home to provide care increased, summer camps and other child-care options began to rise. Unfortunately, the summer learning programs have not grown at the same rate.

Today, demand is much higher than supply. According to a 2009 report from the Afterschool Alliance, among those schoolchildren who do not participate in summer learning programs, 56 percent have parents who report that they would like to have such a program for their children. This would require 24 million more seats to meet this demand. Unfortunately, there are not enough accessible options for parents, a problem that is especially pronounced in low-income neighborhoods. We need more affordable summer programs for children and families to prevent summer learning loss. If we want all of our children to be prepared for college and career, summer is a critical learning time.

See Also

To read a Commentary from the chairman of the board of the National Summer Learning Association, please visit:

The Trump Budget Puts America’s Students Last

We know that all children experience some loss of knowledge and skills over the summer. In math, most children lose two months of math skills during summer vacation, according to the National Summer Learning Association. For reading, the losses are even more pronounced for low-income students, who typically lose two to three months of reading skills. Their higher-income peers, by contrast, make slight reading gains, thus widening the achievement gap. These losses are cumulative and have a huge impact: By 5th grade, low-income children have been left 2 1/2 to three years academically behind their higher-income peers by summer learning loss. Not only do these losses hurt individual children, they also hold back entire classes. A majority of teachers are forced to spend at least a month reteaching material students forgot over the summer.

Summer is an especially challenging time for low-income families that receive food assistance. According to the Food Research and Action Center, more than 20 million children received free lunch through the National School Lunch Program every day during the school year. In the summer, it is much harder to serve kids who need food—in 2016, only one out of every seven kids served by the National School Lunch Program during the previous school year was reached by the Summer Nutrition Programs. And kids who aren’t eating properly have both physical and emotional-developmental issues that make it harder on them to learn when school is back in session.

Our world has changed dramatically since the concept of summer vacation came into vogue. We need to ensure that our students have safe and enriching opportunities during the summer to make sure that they are learning and thriving.

Related Tags:


Recruitment & Retention Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Why Retaining Education Leaders of Color Is Key for Student Success
Today, in the United States roughly 53 percent of our public school students are young people of color, while approximately 80 percent of the educators who lead their classrooms, schools, and districts are white. Racial
Jobs January 2022 Virtual Career Fair for Teachers and K-12 Staff
Find teaching jobs and other jobs in K-12 education at the EdWeek Top School Jobs virtual career fair.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Proven Strategies to Improve Reading Scores
In this webinar, education and reading expert Stacy Hurst will provide a look at some of the biggest issues facing curriculum coordinators, administrators, and teachers working in reading education today. You will: Learn how schools
Content provided by Reading Horizons

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Achievement Spotlight Spotlight on Tutoring
This Spotlight will empower you with information on considerations and strategies for designing high-impact tutoring programs and more.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Whitepaper
In this paper, we'll explore two effective evidence-based educational approaches, Understanding by Design and Gold Standard Project-Based...
Content provided by Defined Learning
Student Achievement Opinion No, Temporarily Closing Schools Is Not Like Invading Iraq
Are academic challenges experienced by students now primarily attributable to virtual learning or to overall pandemic stress?
5 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Achievement Whitepaper
Accelerate Learning Recovery in 2021 and Beyond
What can you do to help students regain solid academic and social emotional footing?
Content provided by n2y