Summer is a wonderful season, and a great chance to relax, on many dimensions. But as I watch my somewhat bored children squabble daily, I wonder about the wisdom of the long summer break, for parents as well as for kids.
And I remember the very solid research on the summer achievement gap, by Karl Alexander and his colleagues. This shows that as much as two-thirds of the K-12 achievement gap can be related to larger, accumulated summer learning losses for low-income students.
It is a little hard to get overly worked up about anything in 90-degree summer heat, but I always think that this is one of our real scandals in education policy.
We know, for sure – combining common sense, good brain theory and solid empirical evidence – that it is bad for students to have a 10-week summer break, in terms of their learning trends, and it is particularly bad for low-income students who don’t get exposed to the summer reading programs, museum visits and education-oriented camps and vacations than many middle-income families enjoy.
Politically, it is also pretty clear why we don’t reduce or eliminate the long summer break for students – many parents don’t like it (when it has been tried in some districts, though surely some parents would like to reduce the hassles of figuring out what to do with kids for 10 weeks of no-school ), the long summer break is traditional, recreational and barbeque industries lobby to preserve it (they really do, just like they have a stake in daylight savings time issues), we don’t want to pay more for more teaching time, many school buildings are not air-conditioned and that would cost more money, etc.
But this is a pretty stark case where we know, with absolute certainty, that our current policies are bad for all students and are especially bad for low-income students. Yet we allow these other political preferences to outweigh the possibility of actually utilizing the known silver bullet of summer learning time. There is a whole organization devoted to this issue.
True, a smattering of good summer intervention programs are targeted at low-income kids, such as this one described recently in EdNews. These efforts are worthy and important but, like voluntary charity generally, there aren’t nearly enough resources to come near solving the whole problem.
A promising recent study suggests that just giving low-income students books might be a cost-effective way to reduce some summer reading loss.
Still, it is frustrating that we don’t seem to want to summon the energy to take this on, full-bore.
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