Preventing summer learning loss
My guest is Ron Fairchild, chief executive officer of the non-profit organizationNational Summer Learning Association.
By Ron Fairchild
There’s been a lot of buzz lately around the problem of summer learning loss and how providing free books may help minimize the backsliding that many disadvantaged children experience during the summer break.
First Lady Michelle Obama talked about this issue recently when she helped launch a new initiative that highlights the need for learning opportunities and physical activity for children during the summer months. And USA Today recently described research findings on the effectiveness of providing a selection of books to students in the early grades as they head home for the summer.
Today, the first day of summer, parents and community organizations are celebrating National Summer Learning Day by working together on safe and meaningful options for kids when they are not in school.
A century of empirical evidence confirms a pattern of summer learning loss, particularly for low-income children.
One of the most prominent studies, led by Johns Hopkins University researcher Karl Alexander, found that the learning loss in low-income children is cumulative throughout elementary school. By 9th grade, he concluded, it accounts for two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading between these children and better-off students, and made a difference in whether they dropped out of school or graduated.
What we learned from these studies is that high-quality summer programs combining engaging lessons and enriching experiences can help these children stay on track for the academic challenges ahead.
That will make a big difference in preparing students to become productive workers and taxpayers and in making sure our economy has the skilled workforce it needs. Having such a well-educated workforce will enable our country to compete economically internationally.
Improving access to books for those children who don’t have any at home is a great first step in addressing the “summer slide” and could contribute to closing the persistent and widenening achievement gap.
But to suggest that sending a struggling student home with “a $50 stack of books” is as effective as a good summer learning program, as one recent article put it, is incredibly shortsighted. Many children also need, and most would benefit from, instructional support in their reading and other subjects, as well as more active and engaging opportunities for learning and growing during the summer.
Summer vacation is a time of huge academic setbacks for many poor children, and not just in reading. While other children are attending camps, visiting museums, and participating in enriching activities with both peers and adults, many children from low-income families are falling further behind academically, socially, and even nutritionally.
Making sure that every child has the opportunity to do well in school benefits us all.
As Mrs. Obama said in her remarks to launch the "United We Serve: Let’s Read, Let’s Move" effort on June 8, “A lot of kids sometimes find that they forget some of the things that they learned throughout the school years, and as a result, if they stop learning through the summer, they can fall behind and then they’re struggling throughout the year.”
That initiative will focus on community service as a way to support children throughout the summer, calling on Americans to volunteer with programs that focus on reading and healthy lifestyles for children. Such a campaign, combined with a range of strategies including access to books and community resources and high-quality summer learning programs, can make a dent in the problem of summer learning loss and put more children on the path to academic success.
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| June 21, 2010; 11:51 AM ET
Categories: Learning | Tags: how to prevent summer learning loss, michelle obama, preventing summer learning loss, summer learning, summer reading
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