ON CAMPUS: Summer schooling matters

Posted by Nan Austin on May 28, 2013 

— The weather hasn’t figured it out, but I know summer’s here – that glorious season of sleeping in and making a mess of the garden, the kitchen and the car during day trips to everywhere.

When my kids were young I was a Bee copy editor, working the night shift. Days I got to spend being mom. During school it was a crunch of volunteering in class, PTA activities and seemingly endless meal prep.

Year-round school meant we had December off to make homemade Christmas gifts, April to camp out in the rain, and August to visit in-laws in Seattle and San Jose – anywhere cooler than here. We went to all the museums, parks and beaches around. Summer nights we opened all the windows and at bed time read Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Boxcar Children and Harry Potter books.

All the extra work, worry and penny pinching to make those amazing moments happen made them all the sweeter. I wanted my family to have great summer memories.

My own summers as a kid were spent hot and bored beyond belief with neighborhood friends. “What d’ you wanna do?” “I dunno. What d’ you wanna do?” could have passed for a continuous 8-track loop. The weekly trek to the library for a fresh stack of escape was my lifeline.

Little did I know that all that reading pushed me ahead in school. That taking my kids to all those places and sharing all those hand-on messy activities helped shape their lives.

We came back to school refreshed and ahead of the curve, the same curve that many children of low-income and uneducated parents keep falling further and further behind.

Summer matters, it turns out. It matters a lot.

According to research cited by the National Summer Learning Association, most kids lose about two months of math learning over the summer. Low-income youth also lose more than two months in reading level, while middle-income kids make slight gains.

The difference adds up, leading to a widening achievement gap. Kids who fall behind end up in lower end high school courses, making it less likely they’ll go on to college and more likely they will drop out.

A Johns Hopkins study of Baltimore City Public School students released in 2007 found that about two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal summer learning opportunities in early grades.

So that’s what happens to those kids. What difference does this make to kids like mine, whose parents do take them camping, to the library and keep them busy making cookies and crafts and art projects?

In a new survey of 500 teachers by the National Summer Learning Association found that virtually all classrooms start each year backtracking to catch students up who fell behind over the summer.

That affects all kids.

Two-thirds of teachers polled reported it takes them at least three to four weeks to re-teach the previous years' skills at the beginning of a new school year. Another 24 percent spend five, six weeks or more. As budgets strain to return up two one week lost to furloughs, consider that is only a tiny piece of what every child loses to summers some spent couch potato-ing.

School PTA leaders at the California PTA association’s 2013 annual convention in San Jose adopted a resolution urging policymakers to create and fund high-quality summer learning programs, especially for disadvantaged youth.

Some districts and schools already tackle this, using money set aside for low-income students. Among them, Ceres Unified has summer schools; Waterford Unified offers algebra camp, Orville Wright Elementary in Modesto holds short summer programs.

As money returns to education, summer programs could weigh in as a cost-effective option.

Summer matters, it turns out, to everybody.

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