School’s Labor’s Lost: Preserving Learning During the Summer

How can educators work to make sure that student of all backgrounds have the same experience with education? This is an extremely complicated question, and one that clearly lacks an easy answer. If there were an easy way to make sure that all students had equal experiences with the educational system, many of the problems with schools would be solved overnight. One important way in which more wealthy students interact differently with the school system than less wealthy students is through summer experiences. For a family that doesn’t have a few thousand dollars of disposable income, finding a productive way for kids to spend the summer can be very difficult. This situation helps to widen the disparities between students of different socioeconomic statuses. Kids who are already privileged get to most educational experiences during summer while kids who are already disadvantaged by their backgrounds lose more learning.

A fantastic piece in the New York Times this past week describes a summer math camp for minority students that combats the problem of summer learning loss for disadvantaged kids. The concept behind the program is to take high-achieving minority students who excel in math and train them to stay ahead of their peers. The article discusses in detail the institutional pressures that minority students face when they attempt to succeed in a subject like math. Unfortunately, many Black and Latino/a students are conditioned by society to believe that they are worse at math than white and Asian students, and they are turned away from STEM fields by implicit, if not explicit, bias in the system.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of pressure for kids who don’t fit the mold of being “smart” to limit their expectations and to not aim for the same things that other students aim for. This is simply unacceptable. As long as our public schools cannot guarantee equal outcomes for all students, we’re failing as a system. Summer learning loss is one of the major reasons why our schools are still as unequal as they are. It’s not enough for schools to stick to their mission for nine months out of the year and leave kids to fend for themselves for the other three months. Educators must do everything possible to establish, promote, and support programs like BEAM 6, the summer camp described in the New York Times article.

Programs like BEAM 6 serve a very important purpose in our educational system. Children who are traditionally disadvantaged because of their race, class, or social status face an uphill battle during their entire educational career. Programs specifically targeted at kids like this help to make sure that equal opportunity really is expanded in schools. Rather than allowing disadvantaged kids to fall further behind during the summer, programs like this prove that early intervention matters, and that we shouldn’t be writing off less wealthy kids during the summer. If we could find ways to engage more kids in programs like this during the summer, we’d make a lot of headway in tackling educational inequality.

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