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The Summer Gap

Resource type: News

The Washington Post |

Poor children should not return to school already behind. A NEW SCHOOL YEAR is beginning, and students are returning to classrooms with stories of how they spent the summer. Many will talk of taking trips to historic places, having fun at summer camps or learning new skills. But an idyllic summer is a myth, not the norm, for most low-income children. For them, the end of school is the end of opportunity and a loss of academic skills that leads to them entering September already behind their better-off peers. Efforts to close America’s achievement gap would be helped if more attention and resources were directed to these crucial summer months. Congress recognized the pernicious effects of what academicians call the “summer slide” last year when it authorized the Summer Term Education Programs for Upward Progress (Step Up) as part of the America Competes Act. Step Up establishes a grant program to support summer learning opportunities for children in high-need school districts. Studies demonstrate that differences in summer learning opportunities contribute to the achievement gaps that separate struggling poor students, many of whom are minorities, from their middle-class peers. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, for instance, found that about two-thirds of the ninth-grade academic achievement gap can be explained by what happens over the summer during the elementary school years. Moreover, studies show the success of programs such as one in Montgomery County in which schools in high-poverty neighborhoods open in July to give students an early start. Sadly, though, Congress has yet to appropriate any money for Step Up. Led by the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins, advocates are now pushing for $50 million for a pilot program that would serve 30,000 children in low-income communities. It would be a shame if another summer came and went with disadvantaged children again left behind.