Examining Bias Behind The Summer Melt

Summer learning is critical to the success of every student. School leaders can partner with out-of-school time (OST) programs, including summer learning programs, and use data to ensure student learning from the school year is aligned and kept on track outside of the classroom as well. But the benefits of these programs are reserved for students who can access and afford them. Without high-quality summer learning opportunities, students lose important learning time that can leave them up to three years behind their peers.

The conventional thinking around summer learning assumes more affluent and educated parents recognize the advantages of summer enrichment and act on opportunities to ensure their children have access to it. The ‘summer melt’ is seen as a consequence of poor decisionmaking on the part of low-income, less-educated parents, especially those of black and brown students. That framing is narrow in scope and doesn’t accurately capture what is taking place for these students compared to their peers.

Summer isn’t the reason for inequity in education. Parents of low-income black and brown students aren’t the reason for inequity in education. Research has provided a more reasonable explanation for the inequity — the “ faucet theory.” This theory suggests that for more affluent or high-income students, the resource faucet is always on and flows steadily not just during the school year but also during the summer. However, for more low-income students the resource faucet tends to flow slower throughout the year, especially during the summer. This holds true in cities like Denver where black and brown students miss out significantly on summer enrichment. They have the lowest access to summer camps and classes, while white and higher-income students — with college educated parents — have the best access to this enrichment and enjoy visits to historical sites, plays, museums and concerts. When looking at the achievement of low-income students, especially those that are black and brown, too often the finger is wagged at efforts of the parents in prioritizing summer enrichment. Far fewer questions are raised about the access to high-quality summer programs these families are provided.

Every student, especially those that are black and brown, or from low-income communities, deserve access to a quality education no matter the time of year. State leaders can make this happen, here’s how:

  • In order to fulfill strong education goals and close equity gaps, state leaders must measure what matters. They must prioritize the collection and reporting of data that shines a light on students’ access to summer enrichment and provide context for the differences in opportunity. When this data is appropriately measured and shared with proper context, leaders, educators, parents, and community members can advocate for a “resource faucet” that flows year-round for all students.
  • State leaders also have an important role in creating the conditions for secure data-driven partnerships between school districts and summer learning programs so student learning isn’t limited to the classroom.

Learn more about the different ways school leaders can partner with out-of-school time (OST) programs to help students.


Originally published at Data Quality Campaign on June 12, 2019.