Thursday, August 4, 2016

Summer Slide? - "Enrichment Gap" is the Real Problem

As students head back to school, the edu-reformers and edu-critics will began their annual rant against summer vacation, arguing that the alleged "summer slide" in achievement is reason to end summer break. Of course, while much of the argument against summer vacation is based on myths, the evidence of a slide in learning is valid. However, it's much less true among middle-class, educated families, and Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute has clearly identified the problem of the "Enrichment Gap" between socioeconomic groups. Thanks to Joanne Jacobs for spotlighting the article.

Late July might be famous for potato chips and trips to the beach. But it’s also the time when America’s inequality, like the hot summer sun, is at its zenith, particularly for our children. Affluent kids are spending their days (and often their nights) at camp or traveling the world with their families, picking up knowledge, skills, and social connections that will help them thrive at school and beyond. Needless to say, these experiences are seldom accessible to their less affluent peers.
As Robert Putnam argued in his landmark book Our Kids—and again in his recent report, Closing the Opportunity Gap—there is a growing class gulf in spending on children’s enrichment and extracurricular activities (things like sports, summer camps, piano lessons, and trips to the zoo). As the upper-middle class grows larger and richer, it is spending extraordinary sums to enhance its kids’ experience and education; meanwhile, other children must make do with far less. (Putnam got the data for his chart from this study.)

Petrilli is spot on, and this issue has long been a key component of the "summer slide." Enrichment programs are in many ways as important as basic academic curriculum in the development of a child. If edu-reformers - especially deep-pocketed ones like Gates & Zuckerberg & Welch - really wanted to make a difference, they would start using their vast funding to grow these opportunities. This requires a neighborhood approach and focus on "fixing a school," rather than fixing schools.

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