The Summer Slide




What do you think of when you hear “summer slide”? You think about waterparks and playgrounds. You think about how every day of the summer is filled with sun, laughter, and fun. But this term has a completely opposite meaning. All of these summer days that kids spend playing by the pool are days that they are losing the learning they acquired the previous school year, and this loss of learning has a name. 



The summer slide. This is a phenomenon that has been studied for over a century, and has significant effects on children’s learning. So what is it? The summer slide is the gap that some students experience over the summer when they aren’t exposed to the books and education that they receive during the school year. This problem is huge in the United States, and the first studies on the topic were conducted a bit over a century ago in 1906 (Brookings). Since researchers and teachers first realized the problem, awareness and research on the summer slide has grown exponentially.



I have always been fascinated by the study of literacy in America, and I have already worked on the topic in many ways in the past, so finding a solution to the summer slide is extremely intriguing to me. My academic interest in this topic started long ago when I chose to do “Literacy in America” for my 5th grade ISP (Independent Student Project). I did extensive research on various aspects of this topic, and learned a great deal about literacy in our country.

When I was in 5th grade, I traveled to Philadelphia to work with one of my parents’ friends, Chrissy Houlahan, on her company called Springboard Collaborative. Springboard is a company that provides books, reading workshops and parent support to kids and families who otherwise would not have access to reading and books over the summer. Springboard was founded to combat these kids’ loss of reading skills during the summer months. At Springboard, I helped read to kids, packaged books and computers for schools, studied literacy statistics, and was exposed to the vast range of schools that are affected by this “summer slide.”

I have also volunteered at the “Prisoner’s Literature Project” in Berkeley, an organization where volunteers go to a tiny house that has an extensive library of donated books, read letters from inmates requesting certain books, find the books, and ship them off to the prisons. It has always felt so rewarding volunteering there, as it is impossible to imagine being stuck in a prison cell for an extended period of time with nothing educational or entertaining to read. Finally, I have also been volunteering at a company called “Community Reading Buddies” for the last 4 summers. This volunteer work consists of spending time  at community centers in Oakland, and reading and playing with the kids. Some of the kids who have trouble reading are much past the age that they should have learned to read, so it has always made me happy to be able to help them with their skills.



Although illiteracy is much more of a problem in other countries than it is for Americans, and literacy rates have improved greatly over the past few centuries, illiteracy remains a problem. I have found many statistics that show that our country’s literacy rates are quite troubling:

  • 32 million people the U.S. can’t read (Crum)
  • Our literacy rates haven’t improved in 10 years (Crum)
  • 14% of our population were below the basic reading level in 2003 (Crum)
  • 85% of juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system in the U.S. are functionally illiterate (Crum)
    • Being functionally literate, which is defined as having “reading and writing skills that are [adequate] ‘to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level’” (Wikipedia), can lead to improved economic security, access to health care, and ability to actively participate in civic life
  • Illiteracy has been linked to academic failure, delinquency, violence, and crime (Crum)

I also found some statistics detailing the improvement of literacy in our country.

  • During the 1950s, the school enrollment rate of 14-17 year olds grew from 83% to 90%, and by 1979, and the illiteracy rate in people 14 or older was below 1% (NCES)
  • The 44% of African Americans who were illiterate in 1900 narrowed the gap with the whites, until they reached the same literacy levels as whites in 1979. 

However, the summer slide is a major subset of the illiteracy issue in our country…

Since researchers and teachers first realized the problem, awareness and research on the summer slide has grown exponentially. A review of the early studies on the summer slide by Brookings shows that “on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning,” there were more declines in the STEM category than humanities, and the rate of loss increased with higher grade levels (Brookings). A recent study of over half a million U.S. students from grades 2-9 showed that “students, on average, lost between 25-30 percent of their school-year learning over the summer” (Brookings). Clearly, with these rates of loss over a couple-month period every year, this problem has identified itself as a prominent issue in society.

Some students are affected by the slide more than others. The main factor that I have seen everywhere in my research is family income level. Lower income kids are proven to be much more affected by the slide than middle and upper class kids (Reading Recovery). The summer slide adds to a growing gap in school year academic achievement between students of high and low economic backgrounds. A study from Stanford states that “the achievement gap between children from high- and low- income families is roughly 30 to 40 percent larger among children born in 2001 than among those born twenty-five years earlier” (Reardon). The summer slide affects children of low-income families harshly due to their lack of accessible education over the few summer months. During the school year, these kids can learn at school every day, but over the summer they have to rely on “family and community resources [to develop] reading proficiencies” (Reading Recovery). In fact, low-income students tend to lose educational abilities over the summer, while middle and high-income students hold their reading levels or even improve them over the summer (Reading Recovery).



There have also been noticeable gaps in the force of the summer slide on majority versus minority groups. Over the last couple decades, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has conducted multiple studies which pinpoint the various gaps between majority and minority students. Many researchers have said that the actual achievement gap between majority and minority students can be described by summer loss over 12 years of education (Grade Level Reading). There are a few aspects of the summer slide that are particularly challenging for minority groups, as the three major ways that summer loss can be prevented are widely unavailable to them. First of all, many homes in the U.S. simply lack books for kids to read over the summer, so the problem for these children is not that they choose not to read over summer, but that they don’t have easy access to books. Second, many schools are shut down in the summer, and do not offer any summer education, which could sometimes serve to be the only educational activity that a child could do all summer. Third, transportation to public libraries can be a huge issue for students over the summer, causing the problem of inability to physically get books in the kids’ hands (Grade Level Reading). Although these may seem like problems that could affect any student groups, they are proven to be particularly harsh on minority students.

A study by the Collaborative Summer Library Program shows that the gap between students during the summer slide cannot be individually attributed to wealth or race, but rather to socio-economic status (SES) as a whole (CSLP). There are many factors that go into this gap between high and low SES students, all of which surround the main issue of what level students can go to over the summer to access reading and educational resources. Another study by the CSLP found that in low income neighborhoods there are “fewer books available in stores, childcare facilities, schools and public libraries” (CSLP). Low SES families have also proven to be less likely to read to or with their kids over summer than high SES families. Many of these studies show that it is not merely “financial or material advantage alone that provides children with opportunities for summer learning, but rather ‘family capital’–a combination of financial, human, and social resources” (CSLP). Similar studies show that there is not a definitive learning gap between white and black or male and female students. However, some literature suggests that girls do tend to read more and comprehend their reading better than males in elementary school (CSLP).



There are many organizations working to improve child, teen, and adult literacy across our country that have been around for many decades. First, The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world. It was founded in 1876 in Philadelphia to “provide leadership for the development, promotion and improvement of library and information services and the profession of librarianship in order to enhance learning and ensure access to information for all” (ALA). Their main core value is bettering libraries across America and the world through member service. Second, Reach out and Read is a nonprofit that works on bettering child literacy through mixing reading into pediatric care and encouraging families to read books together. They focus on developing kids’ brains immensely over their first five years, when the brain is most malleable, to attempt to positively impact the children’s futures. They have grown since their founding in 1989 to a national organization that now serves 4.7 million children and their families across the country, half of whom are from low-income families. Today, they partner with over 5,800 program cites while distributing 6.9 million books per year (Reach Out and Read). Third, Reading is Fundamental, founded in 1966, is one of the largest child literacy organizations in the world. They work to improve America’s literacy rates through “strong leadership, quality content, and an active and engaged community.” Their work consists of targeting literacy issues that need attention, and supporting them with programs and solutions that greatly benefit illiterate kids. They have been in place for over 50 years, and have “built a legacy grounded on the basis that all children have the right to learn and read.” They have distributed over 412 million books to over 40 million children nationwide (RIF).

There are also multiple organizations working to help the summer slide in particular. The main organization that I found is Springboard Collaborative. Here is a short video on what Springboard does:



The most effective program I found while looking for solutions on my topic was Springboard Collaborative, which I mentioned earlier, an organization which hires teachers to teach students over the summer to stop their slide (Springboard). My solution is similar to Springboard’s, but I have designed a program that is more fun and appealing to the kids. My program has three key components: fun learning for less privileged kids, a reward-based incentive system, and collaboration with parents to teach them how to teach their kids. My program would take place at local community centers, and hired teachers, along with teen volunteers, would facilitate educational activities for and with the kids. This program would consist of sessions three days a week for the majority of the summer. It would also include one session every week in which the parents come with their kids and the program helps the parents to create or better their methods of teaching their kids to read at home. Parent involvement is key to this process because there is only so much that schools can do to teach their students if the kids are not reading at home. There would be a system where kids could be recognized and awardedfor their achievements each summer, and also for their multi-summer attendance if they return to the program every summer. Once the students reached fifth grade, they could graduate out of the program and become the teen mentors themselves to help younger kids in areas that these former students struggled. This system would be effective because kids would want to come to the program every day due to the fun, educational activities and coveted prizes, and the parents would be invested in the program.



Now that I have fully shared with you the problem, history, current solutions, and my solution to the summer slide, I invite you all to share your thoughts or feedback on the subject here.


“About Reach Out and Read.” About Us | Reach Out and Read, Reach Out and Read,

“About the American Library Association.” About ALA, American Library Association,\.

Allington, Richard L. “Summer Reading Loss Is the Basis of Almost All the Rich/Poor Reading Gap .” Reading Recovery,,5040.1.

Crum, Maddie. “The U.S. Illiteracy Rate Hasn’t Changed In 10 Years.” The Huffington Post,, 6 Sept. 2013,

Florida, Richard, et al. “Literacy and the Wealth of Cities.” CityLab, 9 Feb. 2012,

“Home.” Springboard Collaborative, Springboard Collaborative,

“National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics,

“Obo.” Functional Literacy – Public Health – Oxford Bibliographies, 15 Feb. 2018,

Quinn, David M., et al. “Summer Learning Loss: What Is It, and What Can We Do about It?” Brookings, Brookings, 14 Sept. 2017,

“Reading the Past, Writing the Future.” UNESCO,,5066.1.

Reardon, Sean F. “The Widening Academic Achievement Gap Between the Rich and the Poor: New Evidence and Possible Explanations.” CEPA,

“”, Reading Is Fundamental,

Roser, Max, and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina. “Literacy.” Our World in Data,

Smith, Malbert, and Dee Brewer. “Stop Summer Reading Loss.” Grade Level Reading, MetaMetrics,,5047.1.

“Summer Slide and the Importance of Reading Over Summer.” CDE,,5066.1.

“U.S. Poverty Rate by Year 1990-2016.” Statista,

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