United Way backs legislation to expand high-quality summer learning programs

April 13, 2017

BOSTON — United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley today submitted testimony to the Joint Committee on Education in support of legislation aimed at expanding high-quality summer learning programs in the Commonwealth.  United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative currently provides 3,000 children grades K-3 with fun and engaging literacy activities integrated in the daily schedule at 27 community-based summer program sites serving low-income youth. Evaluation results from United Way’s program show 69% of participating children maintain or increase their reading skills, creating positive lasting change on their future educational success.

Below is the full text of written testimony in support of House Bill 2868, An Act to increase access to high quality summer learning opportunities, submitted by Michael K. Durkin, President and CEO:

“The United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley (UWMB) submits this testimony in support of House Bill 2868. This bill will give more students the chance to participate in high-quality summer learning programs all across our Commonwealth.

Up to two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher income peers can be attributed to unequal access to summer opportunities. In fact, the loss of knowledge and skills over the summer months, the so-called “summer slide,” has a disproportionate, cumulative effect on low-income youth. We have found that low income students not engaged in summer learning fall 2-3 grade levels behind their peers by the end of the 5th grade and that low-income children not reading at grade level by the end of 3rd grade are 13x more likely to drop out of school.

A growing body of research shows that high-quality summer learning closes that summer learning gap and leads to academic and social-emotional skill gains that persist into subsequent school years.  RAND’s five-city study, which includes Boston and is supported by the Wallace Foundation, reveals better outcomes in mathematics and language arts for participating students over their peers.

UWMB’s data from programs in our region corroborates the results from the RAND study.  UWMB has long supported summer learning programs in the kindergarten to 3rd grade field as a part of our commitment to ensuring that children have access to high-quality learning opportunities outside of school that support their social and academic growth. UWMB’s Summer Learning Collaborative (SLC), launched in 2010 through seed money provided by the Department of Early Education and Childcare as a partnership with community-based organizations and school districts, is reversing the summer learning loss by turning summer time into learning time for over 3,000 elementary school-age children (grades K-3) at 27 program sites in 14 communities throughout our region.

We have consistently found that 85% of participating children avoided summer learning loss and 69% maintained or increased reading skills. Furthermore, 89% of staff in SLC programs have increased competency in literacy instruction. SLC has been highlighted as a “bright spot” by the Campaign for Grade Level Reading and is being replicated in many communities throughout the country.

Mayor Walsh and the Boston Public School system have recognized the benefits of this approach as well and in 2016, called for a citywide system of summer learning focused on grades 4-12 that would include 10,000 students in 100 programs by 2017. Their initiative resulted in 120 programs and nearly 12,000 student participants.

House Bill 2868 presents an opportunity to continue upon the backs of these achievements and invest in children. Authorizing the expansion of summer learning to other communities across the state provides a unique and targeted investment opportunity with known successes and solid returns for the Commonwealth. State support would accelerate efforts to bring these successful models to scale, reaching more children and youth with an approach that will have a positive, lasting impact on efforts to close the achievement gap in the Commonwealth. We strongly support this bill and urge the Committee to report this bill out favorably.”