The Push for Summer Learning Grows

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Two national groups are fighting for increased funding for summer learning programs as a way to improve the American educational system and prevent the loss of knowledge that students experience during a long summer vacation.

According to a new report from the Afterschool Alliance, only about 25 percent of American school children currently enroll in summer learning programs – a percentage the alliance says is based on parental support for the programs.   

The report – based on a survey of 30,000 households and titled America After 3PM Special Report on Summer: Missed Opportunities, Unmet Demand – is being used by the alliance to seek more public funding for summer programs.

But it failed to ask one key question: What is hindering parents from enrolling their children in summer learning programs now?

 Jen Rinehart, vice president, research and policy for the Afterschool Alliance in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that the report had a narrow focus and didn’t address the central question.

She offered three possible reasons why more than the current 14.3 million children aren’t enrolled in summer programs: lack of availability, lack of convenience or lack of affordability.

However, Rinehart said she could not discount two other possible explanations: lack of awareness or lack of initiative among parents.

“The research kind of opens the door for further explanation,” Rinehart said.

Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) says summer learning programs are a way to prevent what research has shown to be a traditional two-month loss of students’ math skills over the summer vacation.

The association is campaigning for school systems not to cut summer school programs, despite the tight economic times, and instead to move summer learning “from the periphery to the center of school reform strategies.” 

And it reported some success with that strategy, crediting a number of “forward-thinking (school) districts” – specifically Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis – for bucking the trend of cutting summer school and instead investing in “comprehensive, innovative summer learning programs as a way to extend student learning and enrichment.”

NLSA said that getting more school systems to adopt a similar approach “will depend on strong partnerships between schools and community organizations to leverage existing resources to ensure a range of activities and programs that promote healthy development.”

To finance its campaign, NSLA recently announced a three-year effort to raise $50 million to push for more summer learning programs; it is already half to its goal.

The Afterschool Alliance survey, which the NSLA cited in its appeal, revealed interesting demographics about those who participate in summer learning programs and those who don’t.  

  • Based on parental interest in enrolling their child in a summer learning program, 56 percent of all non-participating children (an estimated 24 million children) would likely enroll in summer learning programs, although the report didn’t indicate under what circumstances.
  • Roughly one-third of parents showed no interest in enrolling their children in summer learning programs.
  • Low-income and ethnic minority children are more likely than other children to attend summer learning programs (29 and 27 percent for African-Americans and Hispanics, respectively, versus a national average of 25 percent), yet the unmet demand among low-income and minority families is also greatest.
  • The vast majority of parents, particularly those who are low-income and ethnic minorities, support public funding for summer learning programs.

Even though parents were not specifically questioned about why their children are not enrolled now in summer learning programs, the survey claims the reason is because supply outstrips demand.

And the alliance sees after-school providers as the people who could help meet the demand.

  • Ameerah

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