Opinion | Don’t let the summer sun melt academic gains

Jamey Fitzpatrick is president and CEO of the digital learning company Michigan Virtual

Summer in Michigan means enjoying the sunshine, lakes and beaches, parades, family barbeques and countless other warm weather activities. The summer months should be fun for students, but it can also be a time when students unknowingly let their academic knowledge slip, also known as “summer brain drain.”

The “summer brain drain,” also called the “summer slide,” is something many teachers and parents combat every fall as students return to school. “Summer brain drain” refers to a student’s loss of skills and knowledge over the summer months. On average, students lose about a month of learning over this time period. The numbers for reading and math are even more dire, with an estimated two months of loss in some studies.

This loss of skills is tough for teachers and students when they return to school. Instead of learning new curriculum, they start a game of catch-up and refreshing materials that were taught in the previous year. Nine out of ten teachers spend at least three weeks re-teaching lessons at the start of the school year.

So what’s the best way for parents and educators to combat this problem?

For many, the words “summer school” may generate some misconceptions. Some may connote summer school with remedial classes only, but the concept of summer learning has branched far beyond credit recovery. Students can now participate in reading challenges with local libraries, kindergarten readiness programs, apps and video games with educational content or join online classes.

Northville Schools provides an excellent example of expanding summer options for students to learn in a flexible way throughout June, July, and August. Their district offers a face-to-face kindergarten readiness program, in-class courses in civics, economics, honors geometry and PE/Health as well as a variety of online courses. [Editor’s note and disclosure: Northville offers online classes by Michigan Virtual, the company headed by the author of this column.]

Just because you want to enjoy the summer months doesn’t mean your child has to stop learning during the summer. Students interested in growth and maintaining their learning through the year, as well as those looking for other options, are the perfect candidates for opportunities through your school district, your local library, through apps such as Bedtime Math or Duolingo, or video games with educational programs like Minecraft for Education.  

Online classes especially offer a spectrum of learning options for students to explore career paths or the chance to keep their skills sharp year-round. Contact your local school district to explore available programs, and see which option meets the needs of your student.

Summer break can still be fun, but it shouldn’t be a vacation from learning.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Fri, 06/21/2019 - 8:31am

So why exactly do we still operate schools as though we all still have farms to run?

Sun, 06/23/2019 - 10:10am

Could it be from tradition/habit, could it be by contract, could it be we simply like to take vacations when it is warm and the lakes are ice free? Do you need more? Then look at the college schedules there normal school year is fall thru spring.
It isn't what the schedule is but how to we make it work better, either finding better alternatives such as visiting the UP when the snow flys, or the lakes have lowest use, between those sailing and ice fishing.
We are long from the agricultural cycle controlling. I know in my youth, going camping on the Keweenaw from late October to March, so why would have we want school closed anytime during that period? As kids, we played hockey on any frozen ice we could find, but even to us summers were much more fun we could roam farther and longer, and we didn't have to watch out for frost bite, so again why would we want long periods [for us that was two weeks] off to figure out what to do?
The practice of summer break isn't the problem, it is developing the students interests in learning? What a great time to use the libraries, they're even air conditions, but the kids need a reason to go and simply telling them there are books there is not enough [especially when they have a computer in their pocket].
Our kids got jobs during the summer which they extended into year round, they learned the importance of the 'work ethic', something they have used well since school. So why are you so sure that it is the farms that are driving our school schedule and not the non agrarian society drives the schedule today?

Mon, 06/24/2019 - 2:33pm

Duane I have to agree with this writer on this one, having 3 months of summer vacation (which is 12 months in 7 or 8 year old kid time!) is a lot of time to forget stuff and just ends up being vaca overkill (from my experience). Like many things we keep the 3 month off schedule because that's what we've always done and i'd suspect the teachers really like it and would fight to keep it, not that I'm faulting them! There was school in my area that started a 3 term year with a 3 or 4 week vacation between each term. Sounded like a good idea but didn't last, I don't know why. I'm surprised that some charter school hasn't offered the option.

Tue, 06/25/2019 - 9:04pm

We have to long established habits to change that easily or quickly. We need to look if there are alternatives, if not all kids are falling back in their learning during the summer we need to learn how they are doing it and see if it possible to recruit others to try those same things.
What if it is as simple as getting the kids to read all summer long?

Wed, 06/26/2019 - 1:55pm

For you i'm sure not a problem! For many others ... not happening.

Thu, 06/27/2019 - 2:13pm

What if we try the method for 'eating the elephant', one small bite at a time. Why not share the ideas that are working for others and at least give people the opportunity to try some of them? This is something that it took our family three generations to develop to achieve the desired results. Our test comes with the fourth generation.

Sara Plachta Elliott
Fri, 06/21/2019 - 11:14am

Such a critical issue for addressing the achievement gap! My organization, the Youth Development Resource Center, and the United Way for Southeastern Michigan launched the Summer Spark campaign and program locator to address the summer slide. Over 400 summer learning programs in SE Michigan are listed, giving parents a clearinghouse of opportunities for their children and youth.

Larry Neal
Fri, 06/21/2019 - 11:14am

Also be sure to visit your local public library. Most, if not all, offer summer reading programs and events free of charge and can help kids explore and expand their personal interests through print and electronic books and other materials.