Thomas Carroll, President of he Foundation for Education Reform & Accountability, claims in yesterday’s New York Post that poor kids learn at the same rate as wealthier kids but lose substantial ground each summer. Presumably, rich kids are enrolled in enrichment programs and educational camps, while many less privileged children spent two and a half months with minimal exposure to academic content. Carroll quotes Karl Alexander, John Dewey Professor of Sociology at Johns Hopkins:
About two-thirds of the ninth-grade academic achievement gap between disadvantaged youngsters and their more advantaged peers can be explained by what happens over the summer during the elementary-school years.
If the Professor is correct, then there’s a fairly simple solution: mandate summer programs using the same model that we provide to kids with special needs. It’s that “poverty is another form of disability” thing.
In New Jersey, a Child Study Team writes an Individualized Education Plan (I.E.P.) for each child classified as eligible for special services. If there is evidence that a long summer break would cause academic regression, then the district is required to provide summer programming, formerly known as ESY (Extended School Year). This often takes the shape of 4-6 weeks of school at least 4 hours per day. And, as is typical in the world of special education, the parents who scream the loudest get the services for their kids.
Poor parents can scream as loud as they want, but unless they live in Abbott districts there is little summer programming available. It was one of the first cuts local districts made when the economy blew up.
So, what if we created 4-6 week summer programs for impoverished children, regardless of their place of residence? Worried about efficiency and equity? Have our Executive County Superintendents run the programs (or the county special services director) and use the county facilities. Hey – some of the county facilities even have pools. We might even be able to save money by not having to play catch-up in September.