This week we’re sharing some of the insights we’ve gained through our work at EdNavigator, helping families with schools in New Orleans over the past year. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:
- Insight #1: A little help goes a long way.
- Insight #2: Families are overwhelmed with confusing information.
Insight #3: Summer is a massive challenge.
We have a new appreciation for the annual catastrophe that is summer learning loss—and what a headache summer is for the families we work with in general.
In the summer, all the responsibility for keeping kids occupied, safe and engaged gets thrust back onto parents, most often with zero support. Good camps and summer programs are not always affordable for hourly workers, and the ones that are fill up early and quickly. Other options might only run for three hours a day, which is simply not realistic for working parents who need full-day care. Some schools offer summer camps or programs, but they too tend to be short-term (e.g., one month only) or part-time. For older students, summer employment and internship opportunities are a possibility, but they are rare and in high demand.
So what happens instead? Most students are left in the care of older siblings, relatives or neighbors, and have enormous amounts of unstructured time on their hands. Whereas more affluent families may have a long list of activities on the agenda for their kids, helping them prevent learning loss, the children of lower-income families have far fewer opportunities. For them, the lack of support makes summer an academic sinkhole.
The out-of-school opportunity gap has received increased attention in recent years – Robert Putnam and Mike Petrilli have written pieces that you should check out – because it is becoming clearer that it is a substantial driver of long term inequality.
At EdNavigator, helping parents plan for summer has shown us that there is an urgent need for better, cheaper, and more accessible resources and summer programs (we ended up creating our own summer learning packets for many of our families). More broadly, it suggests to us that school systems, cities and states need to fundamentally rethink how they support parents and families over the summer, for example by providing stipends or vouchers that ensure every low-income family can send their child to a quality program.
Summer learning loss ought to be a five-alarm fire for everyone concerned with improving educational equity and supporting low-income families and communities. It’s one of the primary reasons for the achievement gap between higher and lower-income students. Why isn’t there more urgency around this problem? One reason may be that, in the summer, kids literally aren’t students anymore. They’re nobody’s responsibility except for their parents. Let’s change that. Let’s take responsibility for the educational development of every child, all year round.
Ariela Rozman, Timothy Daly and David Keeling are Founding Partners of EdNavigator (@ednavigate), a New Orleans-based nonprofit organization that helps families give their kids a great education. www.ednavigator.com