Programs level the slippery slope of 'summer slide'

The summer slide, when students lose the achievement gains made during the prior school year, is a national crisis that is being overlooked. Making matters worse, legislation making its way through Congress is putting the educational interventions needed to tackle this problem at risk, and this could cost our nation dearly.

Here’s why: An estimated 7.5 million K-8 students from underserved communities are performing significantly below grade level. Up to two-thirds of the nation’s achievement gap is due to a lack of access to quality summer learning programs.

The summer slide is about academics and economics. After all, educational inequity is a major reason for the current shortage of qualified adults who can contribute to the economy. Students who are not proficient readers by third grade are four times as likely to drop out of high school and face lower lifelong earnings

Yet federal funding for out-of-school-time educational programs is in jeopardy. The House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that would cut $2.4 billion from the Department of Education. It includes cutting $191 million from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) program, which provides summer and afterschool learning for 1.6 million students in underserved communities nationwide. If it were up to the Trump administration, CCLC funding would be eliminated.

White House administration officials have stated there is no proof that out-of-school-time education programs are effective. This is simply “fake news.” The Afterschool Alliance highlights 40 studies confirming the positive effects of afterschool programs on academic skills, behavior, safety and family life. One does not need to look far to see the outcomes.

Since 2005, Baltimore City Public Schools has provided a free five-week summer learning program through a special partnership with the national education nonprofit BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life). Approximately 10,000 city children have participated in BELL’s afterschool and summer learning programs. Last summer showed great results. Over 1,400 participating students in grades K-5 showed two month gains in reading and one month gains in math, while 454 participating students in grades 6-8 showed a one month gain in reading and three month gains in math. Ninety-six percent of participating elementary school teachers reported an increase in their students’ self-confidence.

Even closer to the White House, in Montgomery County, which has a growing population of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Meals (FARMS), we are tackling summer slide. In 2016 we launched a BELL summer learning program, which has led to a statistically positive impact on student math and reading skills.

We designed a funding model that can become sustainable over the long term. We collaborated on efforts to bring local government resources together with financial support from a local private funder to help reduce the opportunity gap for students. Montgomery County Public Schools joined this effort.

Montgomery County is also planning for the future of this program and others that promote early childhood education by creating the Children’s Opportunity Fund, which is a component fund of the Greater Washington Community Foundation. The goal of this dedicated funding source is to close the opportunity gap by investing in innovative multi-sector collaborations serving the county’s most vulnerable youth and their families. This sustainable fund is supported financially by Montgomery County government and MCPS and leverages public funds to attract private investment.

However, Baltimore City and Montgomery County cannot go it alone. We need to call on our federal representatives to step up and address the summer slide. It’s time that we see summer learning as an extension of the school year. All our lawmakers need to band together to fight proposed federal cuts to education funding.

The stakes are too high to leave any child behind because of their race, income or zip code. Increasing access to summer and after-school programs is not only an investment in today, it is an investment in our collective economic future. Investing in the educational success of all children is what will continue to make America great — not gutting the funding they need the most.

Nancy Navarro (Twitter: @nancy_navarro) is a Montgomery County council member. Lauren Sanchez Gilbert is CEO Building Educated Leaders for Life (Twitter: @experienceBELL).

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