In his summer 2019 essay “Is Summer Learning Loss Real?,” Paul von Hippel tells us that his belief in summer slide – the pattern that has low-income and disadvantaged minority youth losing ground academically to their more advantaged peers over the long summer break — “has been shaken.” Von Hippel is a respected education researcher whom I hold in high regard, but I do not share his position on summer learning loss. This rejoinder explains why.
Two considerations appear to weigh on von Hippel. The first is that results from the Baltimore-based Beginning School Study, which he cites as one of best-known and most influential studies of summer learning loss, are not sustained when evaluated using recent advances in the psychometrics of achievement testing. The second is evidence that achievement gaps across social lines originate substantially over the preschool years, not during the summer months (or once children are in school, for that matter).
If von Hippel’s critique were limited to the second consideration, I would have little reason to comment. He acknowledges, and I agree, that strong summer programming can help mitigate the achievement gap, regardless of where those gaps originate—whether over the preschool years, as von Hippel has come to believe, in the hours after school, or over the long summer break, our focus at the National Summer Learning Association. But von Hippel’s first consideration does not hold upon close inspection. A corrective is in order.