Most American schools take a 10- to 11-week break during the summer. The assumption that underlies summer vacation — that there is one parent waiting at home for the kids — is true for just over a quarter of American families. For the rest of us, the children are off, the parents are not. We can indulge our annual illusion of children filling joyful hours with sprinkler romps and robotics camp or we can admit the reality: Summer’s supposed freedom is expensive.
In summer, the lack of affordable child care and the achievement gap collide for lower income families. Most kids lose math skills over the summer, but low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. Researchers credit the summer slide for about half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.
A real investment in affordable summer learning programs could improve children’s success in school, while relieving their parents of a stress that shouldn’t be part of the season we still refer to as “vacation.”
For now, what limited funding there is for summer learning programs comes from federal, state and private grants, like the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant, and has to stretch to cover after-school programs as well. “The demand is just bigger than what exists,” said Erik Peterson, vice president of policy at the Afterschool Alliance. “Summer is really a big piece.”