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Federal ARRA Funds Keep Kids Learning and Adults Working During Summer

Resource type: News

The Huffington Post |

Original Source

The National Center for Summer Learning at The Johns Hopkins University and The Building Educated Leaders for Life program (BELL) are Atlantic grantees.

by Ron Fairchild

For many disadvantaged children, summer is a time when school is forgotten and academic progress comes undone.

That could change this summer. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) passed by Congress includes funds that school systems can use to create summer learning opportunities for low-income kids across the country.

These programs can transcend the usual remedial and punitive model many schools offer for students who have failed a grade; rather there is an opportunity to provide programs that are built on well-planned enrichment activities in academics and the arts that engage kids, maintain and improve skills, and prepare students well for the coming school year.

With this new federal funding available, states, school superintendents, boards of education, principals and parents should carefully consider the value of making a high-quality summer learning program available to all kids — not just those from families with the means to pay for one.

We know that the summer months are a time when students tend to backslide academically. But that effect is more pronounced with students from low-income families. Research shows that they lose nearly three months of grade-level equivalency over the summer, compared to an average one-month loss for children from middle-class families.

Overall, Johns Hopkins University researchers have found that 65 percent of the achievement gap in reading between poor and affluent ninth-graders is due to unequal summer learning experiences they had as elementary school students.

More education leaders are beginning to appreciate the importance of high-quality summer programs in addressing the achievement gap. President Obama, as a U.S. senator, supported funding for high-quality summer learning opportunities. And Education Secretary Arne Duncan has expressed his concern about students from low-income families losing ground during summers. “What I worry about a lot is summer reading loss… you get kids to a certain point in June, and when they come back in September, they’re further behind than when they left you three months ago,” he said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

The bottom line is that middle-class kids often have the opportunity to take part in meaningful summer activities that promote learning; poor kids usually do not.

The ARRA education funds can help school systems and summer program providers begin to address this disparity.

Although the recovery package does not include funds explicitly set aside for summer learning programs, funding is available. In particular, the legislation includes significant amounts of Title I funds that can be tapped for summer programs. School systems are given wide leeway in how they allocate federal Title I funds and are being encouraged by the U.S. Department of Education to use these new funds for expanded learning opportunities during the summer and after school.

We believe that schools should give strong consideration to allocating some of the new Title I funds to develop partnerships with strong summer programs. The Building Educated Leaders for Life program (BELL), for example, has shown it can provide a high-quality six-week summer program for less than $2,000 a student. The dividends of such investments can be enormous.

In the past, BELL has partnered with school systems in Baltimore, Detroit, and Springfield, Mass., to offer summer enrichment programs, using federal Title I as a key funding source. More than 3,700 students have enrolled in BELL programs, and the results have been impressive. On average, the BELL program students gained seven months of grade-level equivalency in reading/literacy and math skills.

Disadvantaged students need extra support to thrive in school and in the workplace. School systems and their partners can be smart about meeting this need by tapping into these new federal funds to create first-rate summer programs for all.

Ron Fairchild is executive director of the National Center for Summer Learning at The Johns Hopkins University.