Does Summer Break Promote Educational Inequality?

By Kristy McCaskill (United States)

img_0272To most young people, summer break conjures up images of freedom; lazy days spent inside watching TV, outside looking for something to do, and best of all, NO HOMEWORK! Summer is a time for kids to be creative, to escape the perceived regiment and oppression of school. Summer holidays are the best part of the year to most young people; those few months of precious freedom that kids everywhere look forward to all year. But summer break may not be the utopia that most people believe it to be. It wasn’t until I moved to New Orleans, a city where young people living in poverty are often failed by the education system, that I began to realize that summer holidays might actually be detrimental to the educational goals of young students.

A recent study by John Hopkins University suggests that summer holidays can derail the education of some young people, particularly those living in poverty.  While children in wealthier families are often exposed to museums, family vacations, enrichment classes, and summer camps, children from low-income families are left to find alternatives to the boredom and social isolation that can accompany summer break. The study, which followed children from kindergarten to ninth grade, concluded that while students made similar progress during the school year, regardless of economic status, students from wealthier families held steady or continued to advance during the summer- while students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds fell back. By the end of grammar school, low-income students had fallen nearly three grade levels behind. By ninth grade, roughly two-thirds of the learning gap separating income groups could be blamed on summer learning loss.


Disadvantaged by Year       Better Off by Year

A few weeks before school let out for the summer, one of our members came into the office to ask if we knew of any free summer camps in the 7th ward. Apparently, the few free camps that usually run in our area were not being offered this summer.  With 3 children at home, she was desperately looking for educational opportunities that would ensure her children did not fall into the “summer slide.” While there are summer camps available, they are hard to get to by public transportation and the costs are high for a mother of 3 children. When she left our office, she was trying to decide which child she could send to camp and which child had to stay home. I can only imagine what a difficult choice that was to make for a mother who wants to provide the best opportunities and resources available to all of her children.

This is one of the reasons why ATD Fourth World activities are so important in our communities. The Fourth World Movement runs Festivals of Learning over the course of the summer to offer fun reading and art activities to children who may not get a chance to go to camp or daycare. These Festivals help to address the issue of two- to three-months learning loss that often happens for children from low-income neighborhoods. They take place in view of the entire community and rely on the support and input from parents and community members.

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