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John Monfredo: It’s Time To Get Serious About the “Summer Slide”

Saturday, February 02, 2013


“We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Years of research confirms what educators, including myself, have been saying for a long time: during the summer vacation, students lose too much of what they learned during the school year.

Students typically score lower on standardized tests after the summer break than they did before it. Most students lose two months of mathematical skills every summer, and low-income children lose another two to three months in reading. Often, it is the students who can least afford to lose the reading gains they’ve achieved during the school year who fall the farthest behind when they return to the classroom after a summer break from formal school instruction.

A study by Johns Hopkins University adds to the mounting evidence of the “Summer Slide.” Poor students start out behind their more middle class peers and fall behind each year, and most of that loss occurs when school is out. By the end of the elementary school years, Hopkins researchers found, poor children trail middle-income classmates, in some cases, by three grade levels.

“Children whose parents are college-educated continue to build their reading skills during the summer months,” said Karl Alexander, a Hopkins sociology professor involved in the research. “You go to a museum or you to a library or you go to the science center, and through osmosis you make some headway there.”

Children from low-income families are likely to have less access to reading materials during the summer than middle class children. Low-income parents typically have fewer books at home, if any, and read to their children less often. In addition, parents who work long hours and rely on public transportation cannot easily access public libraries, especially when many of the branch libraries have been cut due to budget constraints. Thus, access to reading materials is essential. Of all the activities in which children engage outside of school, time spent actually reading is the best predictor of reading achievement.

As you can see, the evidence is there for schools to add learning time during the summer months, but budget constraints make it a tough sell for many communities. Therefore, as a community, school districts need to step up and be the leadership force and come up with a plan to narrow the achievement gap that widens during the summer months.

However, schools can’t do it alone, but they must provide the leadership to connect with the community. Let’s enhance summer learning by embracing community-based programs and resources. Let’s include our colleges, public libraries, museums, centers of worship, science centers, social agencies and together work on a plan.

At the School Committee level, I have advocated for more reading for our children during the summer time and have asked that all school libraries give our parents and children an opportunity to take out books for summer reading. Many parents, due to transportation or work, cannot get their child to the Worcester Public Library. Allowing our children to take out books at their neighborhood school will put books into the hands of our children. I have also asked that through Connect Ed, a way of calling all parents in Worcester, that we call during the summer to remind our parents and students about their summer reading assignments and the importance of summer reading.

I have also asked that the Math Department come up with ideas for math practice during the summer month. I would advocate that our students practice and master their math facts through math games and flash cards. I have also advocated that we remind our parents about the importance of reading to their child each and every night and filed an order to have our schools talk about this issue with our parents. If we could get parents to read just 25 minutes a night we could revolutionize public education.

Finally, I have asked that every school have a “Summer Reading Kick off” in June and invite parents to attend. Parents need to know the facts about the summer slide and what they can do to assist their child during vacation time. More on what parents can do to assist their child in the summer will be published in May.

Right now it’s time for school districts, including Worcester, to get very serious about summer learning. This has been a priority with me for many years and I have seen slow progress. I would like to see this issue take on a greater sense of urgency. Obviously, funding has been an issue, but I believe we need to come together as a community with other alternatives and invite other community members to help carve out a plan. Let’s work with the Worcester Education Collaborative with their reading initiatives and bring to the table the School Administration, United Way, local colleges, inter-faith groups, museums, social agencies and establish an educational plan and summer goals of reaching out to include many low-income students in summer learning.

Can the school department give the community groups a “canned” curriculum with ideas for summer learning to inter-faith groups, Y.M.C.A., Boys and Girls Club and other groups that would have a summer program? Can the Worcester Public Schools expand their summer school program by adding additional schools? Can we get our museums to open up slots for our low income students? Can the colleges provide interns to work with our students or can they open their doors for a special program? Anything is possible, but we need to have the will to make it work!

My hope is that we can expand summer learning time in Worcester and help our students hold on to the knowledge that they have gained during the school year. Let’s do it for the children!  


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