Educational Disparity: It’s the Summer Slide

The National Summer Learning Association recently released a short synopsis of some research from 2007, showing that poorly performing students fall further behind because they lose ground during the summer break, not during the school year (pdf):


Professor Karl Alexander:

Statistically, lower income children begin school with lower achievement scores, but during the school year, they progress at about the same rate as their peers. Over the summer, it’s a dramatically different story. During the summer months, disadvantaged children tread water at best or even fall behind. It’s what we call “summer slide” or “summer setback.” But better off children build their skills steadily over the summer months. The pattern was definite and dramatic. It was quite a revelation.

…some differences seemed relevant. For example, better-off children were more likely to go to the library over the summertime and take books home. They were more likely to engage in a variety of enrichment experiences such as attending museums, concerts and field trips. They were more likely to take out-of-town vacations, be involved in organized sports activities, or take lessons, such as swimming or gymnastics lessons. Overall, they had a more expansive realm of experiences.

One thing to note is the phrase “better-off”. Whenever I compare low-income to non-low income students, someone always shows up and argues that not all non-poor kids are alike (i.e., this might explain the gap between Alabama and Massachusetts whites, although the gap persists at every socioeconomic level). But Alexander notes that the real issue is poverty itself:

I also want to point out that the higher performing group isn’t necessarily high income, but simply better off. In the context of the Baltimore City school system, that usually means solidly middle class, with parents who are likely to have gone to college versus dropping out.

Of course, none of this will ever penetrate the brains of educational reformers for two reasons. First, summer enrichment programs cost money, and, other than paying for tests, education reform is not about providing more resources to help children. Second, it can’t be used to blame teachers–overall, they are doing their jobs regardless of student socioeconomic status. So this will never enter into the plans of education ‘reform’:

All modern education reform is predicated on one thing. Michelle Rhee, Students First, Arne Duncan, all Republicans, many Democrats, and even President Obama have based their major reform efforts at one target: bad teachers. You would think the profession is overwhelmed by terrible, terrible teachers, and the only way to fix education is to eliminate any and all professional protections for teachers. The theory goes, that if you discount and disregard all factors that affect a students life except teachers, then you can blame teachers for everything.

This theory goes double for our poor, urban students and their teachers. Not only do we need to fire those teachers, but we need to close those schools down. Displacing the most disadvantaged students and destroying all of their relationships with teachers is certainly sure to fix the problem! We’ve gotta burn the school to save the school.

Of course, focusing on teachers also enables us to remain ignorant of our complicity in impoverishment, but that’s just a bonus…

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