I’m no longer sure that the average child loses months of skills each year, and I doubt that summer learning loss contributes much to the achievement gap in ninth grade.
Several things happened to challenge my faith. One is that my colleagues and I tried to replicate some of the classic results in the summer learning literature—and failed. Sure, the patterns were present on one test—the one used in the best-known study of summer learning. But that study is 30 years old, and we couldn’t replicate its results using modern exams. And it turned out that the test from that study had problems, which had been debated long ago and then, over time, forgotten.
Then I looked more closely at the research on early learning. Early-childhood scholars believe that nearly all of the gaps between children’s skills form before the age of five, or even before the age of three. According to their research, the gaps that we observe in ninth grade were already present, and almost the same size, as they were when those children started kindergarten. Where does summer learning loss fit into that picture?
And of course there is no shortage of researchers who will tell you that achievement gaps are largely the fault of schools. Schools serving poor communities are inferior, these scholars argue, and even when poor children attend schools in middle-class communities, they are shunted into lower achievement groups and curricular tracks, which impede their intellectual growth while wealthier peers surge ahead. If school is the source of achievement gaps, where does that leave summer holidays?
When Schwinn talks about “student confidence”, she admits that it’s harder to measure, but tells a story about a student who told her how nice summer school was because the classes were smaller, and thus she got to participate at a higher level, increasing her overall confidence.
So smaller classes are a good thing? Who knew? I mean. outside of everybody. The irony here is not lost on me.