As Peter R. Orszag, vice chairman of global banking at Citigroup and TSC signatory, puts it: “the average child becomes dumber and fatter during summer vacation.”
His recent article on the ill effects of summer vacation proclaims that there are plenty of ways we can combat the seasonal learning loss and weight gain, offering expanding learning time as one option. He offers some really interesting studies on the ‘summer fade’, showing that it can largely explain why the gap in skills between children on either side of the socioeconomic divide widens as students progress through elementary school. As we have argued before, while children from all backgrounds may learn at similar rates during the school year, each summer, students of high socioeconomic status continue to learn while those of low socioeconomic status fall behind.
But if we thought the learning loss alone was enough to re-consider how we structure the school day, it turns out that isn’t the only issue. A sociologist at Ohio State University and his co-authors found that the average monthly gain in BMI for students moving from kindergarten to first grade was two-to-three times as fast during the summer as during either of the adjoining academic years. And the children most prone to obesity were most likely to put on additional weight during the summer. As unkindly as he may of put it, Mr. Orszag has a point — our current school calendar is failing our students — academically and physically!
So what can we do to fight both summer learning loss and weight gain and in so doing restore the season’s halcyon reputation he asks? One option is to expand learning time to include a longer school year. As he wrote previously, the benefit of expanding the hours of the school day and year helps children receive a well-rounded education while offering teachers more time to collaborate. Another option he outlines includes providing a six-week summer enrichment program that would be focused on small-group instruction for students who qualify for free or reduced meals through the National School Lunch Program. These types of great summer programs are taking place all over the country and we have highlighted programs doing just that in Boston and in Baltimore.
What I appreciate about Mr. Orszag’s commentary, apart from the brutal honesty, is that we don’t have to accept that the average child becomes ‘dumber and fatter’ during the summer. We know of aggressive strategies and programs that reverse summer learning loss. Now it’s our job, as students, parents, teachers, and lawmakers to be aggressive in making them a reality.