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Summer Matters

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson's vision for summer learning.

By 2020, students across California will have access to high quality summer learning opportunities that blend academic support with enrichment and recreation and are an integral part of their year-round educational experience. Read State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson's Vision Statement.

Why Summer Matters

While some students end their summer with new friends from camp, memories of family vacations, and newly learned skills from a variety of activities, many children–particularly those from low-income families–return to school having lost months of learning.  Many also come back less physically fit and with unhealthy weight gain.

This reality has been well-documented.

  • Research spanning 100 years shows that children experience learning loss when they do not engage in educational activities during the summer (White, 1906; Entwisle & Alexander, 1992; Cooper et al., 1996, Downey et al., 2004).

  • Schools are doing their job. According to a longitudinal study by John Hopkins University, students’ learning gains during the school year were nearly equal regardless of socioeconomic status (Alexander, Entwisle, Olson, 2007).

  • Summer learning loss is cumulative. Over time, the difference between the summer learning rates of low-income and higher-income students contributes substantially to the achievement gap (Sloan, McCombs, Schwartz, Bodilly, McCinnis, Lichter, Cross, 2011).

  • Research has shown low-income children to be nearly three grade equivalents behind their more affluent peers in reading by the end of the fifth grade as a result of summer learning loss (National Summer Learning Association [NSLA], 2009).

  • California parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do (Public Agenda, 2010).

  • Furthermore, most children gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school for summer. Summer gains are especially large for African American and Hispanic children (von Hippel et al., 2007). In California, nearly a third (32%) of 5th graders are overweight or obese (; California Department of Education, 2009).

  • An Ohio State University study found that children’s weight gain accelerated significantly during the summer break–increasing two to three times faster than it does during the school year (von Hippel, Powell, Downey, and Rowland, 2007). 

How Summer Learning Programs Matter

A growing body of research indicates that high quality summer learning programs make a difference. Key findings from a 2012 evaluation found that programs in Fresno, Los Angeles, and Sacramento achieved the following results:

  • Participants increased their Instructional grade level by over 1/3 of a grade on the San Diego Quick vocabulary assessment, ending the summer with vocabulary skills much closer to their grade level.

  • Similarly, English Learners across communities demonstrated statistically significant increases in their grade-level vocabulary skills, a gateway to English language fluency.

  • Parents report programs help youth prepare for the challenge of transitioning from elementary to middle school, a period when many youth begin to disengage from school.

  • Summer program participants demonstrated high and sustained school day attendance rates, which is critical for youth to succeed in school.

These programs were not traditional, remedial summer school.  They intentionally combined academics and enrichment in creative and engaging ways that had a strong, positive impact on children’s achievement, as defined both by academic outcomes and the social-emotional outcomes that support achievement.

The full report External link opens in new window or tab. can be accessed on the Summer Matters Resources web page.

How You Matter

What can districts, schools, and families do to mitigate negative outcomes and support positive ones during the summer months? Here are some suggestions.*

The Role of School Leaders
  • Create a taskforce of key summer learning stakeholders–community-based providers, parents, county offices, public agencies, and funders–to identify areas of collaboration and create planning blueprints.

  • Set a vision for summer learning that includes a blended approach of both academic and enrichment activities, rather than solely focusing on remediation and test preparation.

  • Be creative with funding, braiding multiple sources, including Title I, 21st Century Community Learning Center, After School Education and Safety, Migrant Education, and other sources. Develop public-private partnerships to increase the overall funding pool.

  • Revise policies around facility use and cost to ensure program providers have access to necessary resources.

*Adapted from National Summer Learning Association, 2011

The Role of Teachers
  • Identify strong summer learning programs in your area and recommend them to students and their families.

  • Encourage your principal and district leadership to support summer learning at your school site.

  • Apply to coach staff or advise the summer learning program at your school site.

  • Give students and their families ideas for continued learning in the summer that they can do at home in addition to in their community.
The Role of Parents
  • Present the research and program options to your Principal, Board of Education, Superintendent and encourage them to share information across the district with a summer program guides and/or website.

  • Organize parents to share how important these programs are to district leaders and encourage them to provide engaging, inspiring summer learning programs.

  • Actively support leaders who are working for summer learning.

  • Ensure children read consistently over the summer, and take advantage of community resources to keep kids active and engaged throughout the summer months.

For more resources and tools visit the Summer Matters website External link opens in new window or tab..

Summer Reading and Mathematics Resources

The California Department of Education has identified resources for parents to use with their children to keep them engaged with reading and mathematics during the summer.

Questions:   Jason Spencer | | 916-319-0800
Last Reviewed: Friday, November 5, 2021