EdNavigator Insight #3: Summer is a massive challenge for working families

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 #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

5 Replies to “EdNavigator Insight #3: Summer is a massive challenge for working families”

  1. To provoke:

    Would you trade universal preschool for means-tested summer opportunities? Might be a good way for you to call the question.

  2. Great question. From a family perspective, it’s really all one problem. Universal pre-K is popular both because of the educational benefit AND because it allows parents to work without incurring huge child care costs. Summer is more or less the same issue, experienced over and over. Each summer, parents struggle to afford good care and they are aware that they can’t provide the types of rich experiences schools can often provide when they are in session.

    The policy choice you’re raising is probably bigger than the Eduwonk comments section can accommodate. Should we shift priorities/resources? I don’t know. It’s very clear that we need to invest more in early childhood experiences. It’s also clear that summer learning loss is a lead contributor to achievement gaps. I would frame it this way: our education system does not provide the level of coverage required to get the outcomes we want. We built it on the assumption that 9-10 months per year of services from grades 1-12 would do the job. Maybe that was true 100 years ago. Then the world and the job market changed significantly and all we did was add kindergarten. Retrofitting the system and affording new features has proven really challenging, politically and practically. For families with modest incomes, it’s a constant reminder that the deck is stacked against them.

  3. There are some schools out there that have already taken steps to start addressing this issue. One school where I used to work, the Soulsville Charter School in Memphis, TN, requires that all its high school students participate in a summer job, internship or fellowship. We spend the entire spring during our 2x a week advisory helping students find and get into opportunities. We don’t just focus locally; we also go national. Students travel to Massachusetts, Vermont, California, Colorado, Arizona, and internationally to satisfy these requirements. Maybe not all schools could adopt this idea to this extent, but it doesn’t seem like a stretch to implement a similar program locally at the district level. http://soulsvillecharterschool.org/

  4. Summer break can be stressful for families who are homeless or living at or below the poverty line. Some families believe summer camps won’t fit their budget. But it doesn’t have to mean spending thousands of dollars for your child to have the “camp experience.” The lack of high-quality, engaging summer programming means youth may not have a safe place to go while their parents are at work. Even those engaged in daytime activities may not be receiving the quality educational or recreational programming necessary to keep them healthy and to avoid the “summer slide.” Chris Salamone is the present CEO of the law firm, Chris M. Salamone & Associates. His experience in several organizations such as the Florence Fuller Child Development Centers (FFCDC), has helped him in many ways. At the FFCDC, Chris Salamone has been providing child care programs for children from low-income households. Summer Camp was one of the most notable program of the FFCDC. Also, he has been actively involved in non-profit educational sphere where he shared his views on various subjects relevant to government, law and leadership. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qDJ8vsAVLGo

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