Panel advances bill to address “summer learning loss”

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STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, MARCH 16, 2016…..The Joint Committee on Education on Tuesday endorsed a summer learning bill that supporters describe as a key toward closing achievement gaps among Massachusetts students.

The bill (H 4033) was one of 28 bills for which the committee recommended passage on Tuesday, including several that were redrafted or had other bills attached. Filed in February by Rep. Alice Peisch, the committee’s House chairwoman, the bill would create a pilot grant program to expand research-based summer learning opportunities in school districts with high-concentrations of low-income students.

The bill’s supporters include Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, Worcester Mayor Joe Petty, New Bedford schools superintendent Pia Durkin and Paul Reville, who served as education secretary under Gov. Deval Patrick.

After testifying in favor of the bill earlier this month, Reville said the measure would serve as a “starting point,” providing an incentive for districts that can’t afford summer learning on their own.

“Historically, we’ve not regarded summer as a responsibility of the education system,” Reville told the News Service. “We’ve had a system that leaves summer sort of up to chance. It’s an accident of birth as to whether or not you get access to high-quality summer learning. Some kids have virtually every week, virtually every day accounted for. Some kids are confined to apartments with television sets, and that’s that.”

Peisch’s bill would charge the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education with establishing the grant program, with eligible applicants including at least 150 hours of programming focused on “academic and college and career readiness skills” such as critical thinking, collaboration and perseverance. The summer learning programs would also be required to “engage a variety of organizations and leverage a cost-sharing partnership with local districts, private funders and non-profit institutions.”

During the March 7 hearing on the bill, YMCA of Greater Boston president and CEO James Morton recounted an estimate that 60 percent to 75 percent of the achievement gap is caused by summer learning loss.

“If we are to be serious about creating educational equity in the commonwealth, we must be serious about attacking the issue of summer learning loss,” Morton, the vice chair of the state’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said. “If we are truly committed to making sure that low-income children have access to opportunity to college and gainful employment later in life, we must address the summer learning loss issue. If we are serious about eliminating the pipeline to prison and opiate epidemic, then we must be serious about summer learning loss. This all sounds melodramatic, but when children fail in school, their options in life are limited.”

Copyright 2016 State House News Service

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