Spotlight Exclusives

Shining a Light on Summer Learning Loss Among Low-Income Children

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Asanother school year winds down excitement is growing for children with plansfor fun and adventure during the summer break. There will be trips to museums,parks, and camps, and long days playing games and exploring outside withfriends.


Thatidyllic image of summer vacation, however, is the stuff of lore for poor kids acrossthe country. For them, summer is not a happy, carefree time, but a season ofrisks and setbacks that include academic backsliding, limited access to healthymeals, and a lack of adequate adult supervision.


Theproblem of summer learning loss has been gaining visibility recently: MichelleObama highlighted the issue as part of her push against childhood obesity. Thismonth she teamed with the Corporation for National Service to launch UnitedWe Serve: Let۪s Read, Let۪s Move.The National Summer LearningAssociation (NSLA) is urging school districts to re-envision summer schoolas an opportunity for engaging lessons and enrichment activities for childrenand as a critical element in school reform efforts. And, several school districtsincludingCincinnati, Minneapolis, and Pittsburghhave retooled their summer schoolprograms to provide more learning and enrichment opportunities for students.


Researchover more than a century clearly documents the academic backslide experiencedby many students, especially poor children, during the summer. However, theconnection between summer learning loss and dropoutrates is not as widely understood. Students who are significantly belowgrade level in math and reading when they start high school are far more likelyto drop out. Much of that achievement gap can be tied to the months of learningloss suffered each summer when they don۪t have access to quality learningopportunities.


TheNational Dropout Prevention Center (NDPC) is planning an upcomingnewsletter on the problem of summer learning loss for at-risk students,with suggestions for designing better programs to keep kids on track duringthose long months away from school. The issue will also outline the research,best practices, and a new vision for summer school to address some of theacademic issues that push students off the graduation track.


TheNDPC/N newsletter includes information on an NSLA project, sponsored in part bythe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to develop summer transition programsthat prepare rising 9th graders for high school. The newsletter willalso feature an interview with Gene Bottoms, who directs the High Schools thatWork initiative at the Southern Regional Education Board. Bottoms suggests thatsummer transition programs for students entering high school provide rigorousacademics and interesting hands-on activities for those students who show riskfactors for dropping out.


“Somany students exhibit risk factors for dropping out as early as middle school,”he says. “If you can do something in the summer before those students get tohigh school to head off the academic challenges they are likely to face in 9thgrade, it could give them a great jump start toward graduation.”

Posted by Kathleen


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