By Michael Parker
Executive Director, Oregon 529 College Savings Network
August 1, 2013

When the school year ends and summer arrives, it’s human nature to think about “shutting it down” a little and relax over the break. As parents, the constant hum of activity makes way for those lazier days. But those lazy days could result in complacency, especially as it relates to education and reading.
You may have heard about the “summer slide.” Or the “achievement gap.”

This term has long-referred to the loss of skills, aptitude and education when reading is not a fundamental part of a child’s summer activities.

The statistics have long pointed to this loss and one, from 1978, often cited by librarians, tells a very clear tale:

More than 30 years ago, Heyns, a New York University sociology professor, spent two years following nearly 3,000 sixth and seventh graders in Atlanta’s public schools. She found that children who read at least six books during the summer maintained or improved their reading skills, while kids who didn’t read any saw their skills slip by as much as an entire grade level. Heyns concluded that the single activity most strongly and consistently tied to summer reading programs was reading—no big surprise there. But she also discovered that summer reading—whether measured by the number of books read, the time spent reading, or even by how often kids used the library—systematically increased students’ vocabulary test scores, and that socioeconomic status had little impact on reading achievement over the summer.

A more recent study points to not just the “what” and “why”of summer reading — but also the “how” to get children interested in keeping reading at the front of their minds. And it is related to the difference between a dedicated reading list and giving children choice. This study also points out how summer reading is just as effective, if not more so, than summer school. It is also much more cost-effective.

“We found our intervention was less expensive and less extensive than either providing summer school or engaging in comprehensive school reform,” Allington said. “The effect was equal to the effect of summer school. Spending roughly $40 to $50 a year on free books for each child began to alleviate the achievement gap that occurs in the summer.” There are plenty of fantastic summer reading programs at libraries around the country. Some have greater incentives than just the opportunity to read and learn throughout the summer — and they also offer great fun. And the results in the classroom can be transformative.

By giving children the opportunity to thrive through reading, achievement can remain intact or grow. By making summer reading a summer “tradition” as opposed to a summer “must-do,” children will want to read. They will look at it is as fun and not even realize that they are making a profound investment in their future.

With the cost of college continuing to rise, reading can be that factor that presents ample opportunity when it is time to consider college.

All of this points to the simple notion that summer reading is truly a good investment. And not just an investment of time.

About the Author
Michael Parker is the Executive Director of the Oregon 529 College Savings Network, which offers two 529 college savings plans, a direct-sold plan and an advisor-sold  plan. In 2001, Michael coordinated the launch of the state’s first 529 college savings plan and is currently responsible for all aspects of the state’s 529 operations, including investment oversight, portfolio construction, marketing, and plan design. As of June, 30, 2013, the Oregon 529 College Savings Network had more than $1.8 billion in assets under management in nearly 140,000 active accounts.