Is your brain on break? Research, programs, address 'summer learning loss' in kids
WEST ORANGE — The front steps leading to the gymnasium just got a fresh coat of bright green paint. The crayons, paper and other supplies are ordered.
It’s late June, and while most schools across the state are packing up for the year, educators at Valley Settlement House in West Orange are gearing up for opening day.
"Schools are winding down. We’re winding up," said executive director Marcina Fox.
The West Orange program, which also operates after-school and preschool programs, is one of countless summer day camps around New Jersey that offer kids a mixture of field trips, recreation and arts and crafts. Now many are beefing up educational components — adding book groups and science lessons, talking math packets and "journaling" — to combat what’s called "summer learning loss" or "summer slide."
Although many kids and parents welcome summer as a refreshing break from homework, exams and other school-year demands, experts say that when kids spend summer days lounging around, some of the learning they’ve gained slips away.
In a new survey of 500 teachers conducted by the National Summer Learning Association, based in Baltimore, 66 percent said they spend three to four weeks in September reteaching the previous year’s skills. About 24 percent spend five weeks or more.
Other research shows that most kids lose two months of grade-level equivalency in math and that low-income children also lose that much in reading, according to the association. Middle-class and affluent kids gain some reading skill, thanks to things like summer reading lists they’re encouraged to tackle.
A 2007 report by researchers at Johns Hopkins University also said that for low-income kids, the losses pile up — so much that by ninth grade, two-thirds of the achievement gap between poor and higher-income students can be explained by "summer slide." Summer learning loss also can affect whether students will aim to go to college, researchers found.
"We’ve known for a long time that summer learning loss is a problem, particularly for low-income kids," said Gary Huggins, chief executive officer of the National Summer Learning Association.
But although "summer learning loss" may be the buzzwords creeping into conversation, is it anything new?
Many educators — and parents — say it has been a part of life for generations.
"I don’t think it’s a new thing," said Verona School Superintendent Steve Forte. "This is an agrarian calendar. It’s been an issue for a long time."
Verona offers a summer enrichment academy for students from prekindergarten through high school, and even two college-level classes. But Forte’s summer advice for kids — even his own two children — is to pursue academics "in moderation."
"I don’t think we should take a kid’s whole summer," he said.
Huggins said that what’s new is increased awareness of the issue. He said research also shows kids who are in summer programs fare better than those who are not.
"I think what’s happening is a recognition that despite what we’re investing in education reform, improving teacher effectiveness, higher expectations, the progress we’re making is diminished if we’re not addressing the summer," he said.
Not all parents can find summer programs for their kids, however. The state Department of Education does not require or fund summer schools, and some school districts have been forced to cut programs because of budget constraints. Many nonprofit programs say it’s difficult to find enough funding for all the children who would like to attend.
Diane Genco, executive director of the New Jersey School-Age Care Coalition, said there are other places kids can find summer learning, however, such as museums and free library reading clubs.
At the Valley Settlement House in West Orange, a nonprofit agency housed in a cluster of old Victorian houses and a two-story gymnasium, some 90 kids, mostly low-income and all with working parents, will start camp July 1.
The camp offers everything from science labs to beach trips, with learning embedded into the day. A few years ago, for example, Fox said teachers began asking kids to bring a book along on bus rides to excursions.
"Sometimes we’re on a bus for 50 minutes. Rather than just ride a bus, we’ll read while we ride," she said. "If we called it a learning program, I don’t think the kids would be as interested."
The camp is funded mostly through Essex County and private dollars. Parents also pay on a sliding scale, based on income.
One recent afternoon, teacher Sidney Flournoy sat with fourth- and fifth-graders at child-sized tables in the bright orange recreation room. Although a few kids smiled at the idea of field-trip books — one said the books "might as well get lost" — they said they like the mix of learning and fun.
"Sometimes I forget what I learned during the school year," said Thania Piercin, 10, of Orange. "I like that we do math and social studies."
Dayanara Machado, 10, of West Orange, agreed.
"I like to go to learn," she said. "As long as we don’t have homework."
Any real educator knows how burned out school kids are from the abuse our government has brought down on them with over testing through Common Core Standards.
There are thousands of free, enriching programs through the summer for all kids.
What most people dont realize is that "more" is not always better when dealing with the amount of work we are forcing on students.
Here's a noble idea, how about asking the classroom teacher if most students would benefit from a longer school year and not the politicians/Pearson (nationwide testing company) who are pushing more te$ting..............
Their prom was Friday. All the couples were Asian except 2. The top of the graduating classes in Nassau county are almost all Asian. Theses kids work hard, study, go to workshops etc. These kids were going to Yale, Columbia, RPI, Carnegie Mellon. Not a SUNY amongst them.
The average kids go to Oneonta etc and become teachers and the mill continues. Full disclosure. I went to a state school. I was average too.
IMO, when you read things by COP and IJF, these are good guys with their hearts in the right place.
This country has plenty of outstanding teachers. They may or may not have been academic achievers in high school. What makes them outstanding is their genuine concern for the outcomes of the children they work with. That alone motivates them enough to work hard in their jobs to reach the kids who are reachable (as we can all agree they need the willing participation of their students and their parents as well).
Of much bigger issue is how we avoid attracting people unfit for this important role in society. You know, the ones we all know exist who are in it for the wrong reasons, and who are more beholden to their union than they are the students and taxpayers that they work for.
I give extra props to the good teachers out there that have to tolerate these people who sully their profession. At least in my industry, most professionals would not tolerate a working environment in which accountability is valued so little and incompetence is protected by law. Goes to show how truly selfless the goods ones are, the type that proves they're willing to make sacrifices for the betterment of the children, the ones that are willing to at least engage in a conversation that potentially means a disruption to their traditional routine. Perhaps more "quality" would join them if they knew they didn't have to work side by side with the leaches who won't ever consider input for improvement from anywhere but their union.
"Average kid goes to state school and becomes X."
I bet there's more than a few very good teachers, who were average students and went to state schools, teaching the aforementioned Asian valedictorians.
I personally think the bigger issue is parent involvement, setting boundaries and priorities, etc.. I remember my Asian friends in high school, a long time ago now, and remember their parents being no nonsense. Homework got done, extra curricular stuff had to wait.
Maybe its oversimplification, but I think successful students come from safe school environments with limited distractions, and involved parents.
Some things I'd love to see:
1. Less teachers.
Sounds counter-intuitive, but I believe one solution to poor education and uneuqla quality of education is less teachers teacher FAR more students via technology. We live in a time where the tech exists that one brilliant top 0.0001% teacher can (and perhaps should) be teaching 10,000+ students at once with the aid of advanced technology. No, the teacher would not be there to handle each student as a special snowflake per say, but that elite teacher would be far better at disseminating their brilliance to the kids as a base.
2. More Babysitters.
To address the other issues far fewer teachers (see above) would create, is the requirement for discipline and well, babysitting. These folks would not need to be as great, but would also not play a primary role in education. Their job would be to 1. maintain class discipline and 2. Assists the students as support for the elite teacher's lectures.
3. More Technology.
Simple, kids should be being educated on the current-level tech. Yes, it's expensive, but I'd rather spend here than elsewhere. Caveat is a hardcore focus on making sure this tech doesn't walk away (as so often happens now). More, the entire education system/plan needs to be based around technology and it's use by the teacher.
4. No Tolerance Policy
When Kids Misbehave, they are removed from class. No exceptions, no forgiveness. If it happens enough times, the Parents are issues a citation (i.e. a court summons, like a speeding ticket). Parents will either manage their kids, or pay for it if they don't.
5. Complete Overhaul of Materials being Taught
This will spark a ton of debate, but IMO the entire system of what gets taught and what doesn't needs "comprehensive reform" to suit the modern family, students and world.
6. A British Style Division of Students at various Points via Testing
Simple, at Grade X, everyone takes a test. Pass it and move on, fail it and you go to a different (lesser) path. Repeat repeatedly as you progress through school.
7. Eliminate Team Sports from Public Schools, from K thru College.
Far too much is spent on Team Sports. Schools are here to teach, not to raise the next generation of injured kids or professional athletes. Sports (organized team) is a luxury, not a right. Physical Education would change from a focus on sports type activity to one focussed on health, fitness and a healthy lifestyle exclusively. Team Sports can (and would) contineu to exist as a community-based non-profit thing, a la Babe Ruth league baseball, Little League, etc. we can talk about if we should subsidize that elsewhere.
There is more, but this would be a great start.
That said, there's not much we can do to make parents more involved with their kids. What we can control is their institutional learning environment. Unfortantely, we clearly have some people in those institutions who want involvement only on their terms, and we're expected to keep our mouths shut and "leave it to them" (regardless of what the research says). Your tax money is welcome, but any input beyond that is not.
Caveat for FF - I know its different in New England. This is a local type issue. In areas like New York and NJ where the compensation for teachers is incredibly high its incredibly difficult to find a job. We have the same issue with our local police force. Thousands of applicants and no jobs. Our police make over 100K before benefits with many making over 180K with overtime.
Teachers and waiters/waitresses deal with these azzholes daily. Their jobs suck because of the parents. Now the parents hide behind political BS. SAD
There are bad teachers just like every other profession, but few professions are as trusted as the teaching profession. When the tornados hit in Oklahoma, the students were with their teachers, who protected them as if they were their own.