Wednesday, August 24, 2011

(Summer) Learning

Summer learning is fast becoming equally as important as learning throughout the school year. Traditionally viewed as a time for students to relax and have fun, as the school year seems to grow longer, summer is becoming more and more about organized learning - whether academic, faith, sports or developmentally based. And with the explosion of so many different technological devices and applications, learning does not have to be confined to just the school building whether formal or informal.

Summer programs serve as powerful bridges to learning throughout the year. As the demand for more programming continues to grow, parents, educators, community and political leaders, and students themselves are encouraged to come together, organize, stand up and speak out for increased funding and support for programs in their communities. The National Summer Learning Association and Coalition represents a wide range of education, youth development, health and others committed to bringing awareness and support to the value of summer programs as opportunities to close the achievement gap and support healthy development for all students.

The Interview: Summer Learning
Mr. Bob Seidel
Policy Director, National Summer Learning Association and Coalition

1.      Share with us some little known facts about summer learning.

Summer learning loss may be the most important education issue facing the country that is not getting adequate attention. Research shows that most American students tend to lose about two months of what they’ve previously learned in math over the summer and students in low-income communities also tend to lose up to three months of reading skill development. But those enrolled in high-quality summer learning programs tend to make gains. No matter what else we do in education reform, whether it’s in curriculum, standards, professional development, or accountability systems, if we don’t aggressively address summer learning loss, a lot of those other efforts will be wasted. Recent publications by the RAND Corporation and the Harvard Family Research Project summarize much of the research and highlight what works.

2.      What are the goals of the National Summer Learning Coalition, what outcomes are envisioned and where is NSLC currently in bringing it all together?

The Coalition wants to make high-quality summer learning an integral part of federal education policy, particularly through reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also currently known as “No Child Left Behind”).  The idea is for the federal government to make clear to states and local communities that summer learning is important and that it should be part of state and local education planning.  More than 50 education, youth development, health, and other organizations have joined the Coalition to advocate for summer learning policy.  ESEA is the broadest federal K-12 education policy statement, so we are focusing our efforts there.  Coalition members range from national organizations like the American Association of School Administrators and Boys & Girls Clubs of America to local programs like In Reach.

If we are successful, the federal government will make clear that many different funding streams within ESEA can be used for summer learning, but it will leave ultimate decision-making to local communities.

3.      What are some policy opportunities and how can communities rally all stakeholders to participate in strengthening summer learning?

Local communities can invite their Congressional representatives to visit existing summer learning programs to see what’s being accomplished.  Local advocates can also work with Title I administrators in their school districts to see how existing funds can be used for summer learning.  Summer learning programs are already eligible for federal funding, including Title I, but in many places the law doesn’t say so explicitly, so many people don’t know it.  One pot of federal resources that does specifically support summer programs is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.  But Congress has already begun cutting back that funding.  So it’s important to let Members of Congress know that it needs to be protected and even expanded.

It’s important to understand that high-quality summer learning programs may be managed by public school systems or community-based organizations.  Some of the best programs are partnerships between school districts and other organizations.  So your starting point can be inside or outside the public school system.

4.      What role can colleges and universities play in leveraging summer learning programs, opportunities and policies?

As just mentioned, many highly effective summer programs are partnerships and some of these include higher education institutions.  Around the country, some K-12 summer programs are based on college campuses.  In other cases, college faculty, staff, and students help staff summer programs, whether or not they are campus-based.  College students who are eligible for the federal college work-study program can be excellent support staff working with certified teachers in a summer program.

5.      School reform and STEM are a few buzz words in education right now, how can summer learning contribute to the success of these movements?

As I mentioned, most education reform movements focus on the school year.  The chances of any of them being successful are significantly enhanced if there is a summer learning program helping students to advance—rather than lose learning—during the summer. 

That includes STEM education.  Research shows that summer learning loss in math is particularly prevalent.  Summer provides a great opportunity for teachers and students to engage in innovative “outside-of-the-box” learning activities in STEM and other areas.  Project-based learning, especially when it gets students physically outside of the school building and into a range of environments, can be very engaging for both students and teachers.  We can go back to school in the fall energized to continue our STEM learning.

6.      And finally, what is the outlook on summer learning in the state of Maryland particularly in Prince George’s County?

There are excellent summer learning programs across Maryland, including Prince George’s County.  The In Reach program is one of them.  But here, as across the country, education budgets are being squeezed in the overall fiscal crunch.  So it’s important for local policymakers to understand the importance of summer learning.  If we don’t invest in summer learning, we end up getting much less for our education dollar during the school year.  We need to keep our legislators aware of the importance of the issue.  But we also need to look for diverse local sources of funding.  We know that we have high-quality programs, but we need many more to serve our young people properly. 

Download In Reach's summer edition of SnapShot - which promises to be an amazing resource throughout the year - to read more on learning. Visit In Reach's Resource Page for a list of additional resources including assistive technology apps.