Magnitude of the Problem

The United States has a K-12 public school enrollment roughly 48 million, of which only 9.2 percent attend summer school programs. These summer school programs typically differ significantly from the regular school program in terms of curriculum, goals, and rigor. Because summer school programs are voluntary, self-selection also confounds the effects of attending. Due to these differences, most summer school programs have not been effective in reducing the achievement gap between low-SES and high-SES youth, and in some cases actually exacerbate the gaps. For those low-SES students who do not have access to high quality summer learning opportunities, the personal impact is significant.

The early learning gap among low-SES students, which is predominantly driven by summer learning loss in the elementary school years, casts a long achievement shadow. When compared to high-SES youth, the low-SES youth are “more likely to enter adulthood without high school certification (36 percent versus 3 percent at age twenty-two) and less likely to attend a four-year college (7 percent versus 59 percent, also at age twenty-two)." The college wage premium doubled from 1967 to 1997, while the dropout penalty similarly doubled. In an economy that is increasingly unaccommodating of low-skill workers, joblessness and declining wages are related to growth in ghetto poverty. In characterizing the U.S. poverty population, John Iceland revealed that “poor African-American children are less likely to escape poverty than others – 1 in 3 were still poor at ages 25 to 27, as compared to 1 in 12 white children." While no consensus has been reached on a model to explain this lack of mobility, some research has provided the strongest support for the economic resources model, “where parents’ lack of money and time hinders the ability to invest in children’s education." The correlation between SES and educational attainment thus has significant implications for the likelihood of low-SES children escaping poverty.