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Introductory Remarks for Anytime, Anywhere Summer Learning

by Michael H. Levine, Ph.D.
June 10, 2014

Remarks delivered by Michael Levine at the Anytime, Anywhere Summer Learning Forum co-hosted by New America and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop in partnership with the National Summer Learning Association and the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading on June 10, 2014.

Michael LevineThanks Lisa, and thanks very much to New America, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, and the National Summer Learning Association for convening the first of what I hope will be a series of conversations on the causes of summer learning loss, and possible, scalable community-based solutions. We are grateful also to the Pritzker Children’s Initiative for their generous support for this Forum.

Today’s Forum will focus on several practical ways in which we can support new models to help children, especially those who are under-performing their potential, to keep up with the skills, knowledge and perspectives they will need to compete and cooperate in a digital and global age. At the Cooney Center, our mission is to use research-based evidence and proven program expertise to move key sectors towards possible breakthroughs in children’s learning and healthy development. In the early reading arena, after two decades of limited progress, we certainly need to be bold and forward-thinking!

The Forum will focus on four interconnected themes that we have not recently, as a nation, confronted seriously with a modern, fresh perspective.

First, what can we do across sectors to recognize a tremendous drain on our children’s capacity to learn? The fact is that for far too many kids, summer time is part of a profoundly disturbing cycle—millions of preschoolers and elementary school children have precious few opportunities to engage in enriching activities that so many of their higher income peers experience as a matter of course. These kids suffer from limited access to academically or socially valuable experiences within communities that are often distressed with high unemployment, shortened hours of public utilities like libraries, and a paucity of safe outdoor activities that nourish children’s minds, bodies, and souls. And many of the academic “summer school” programs that do exist are often focused on remedial work with limited value.

Second, can we mobilize parents—especially those who are deeply connected to their kids, but who have limited resources and education to do more?  We need to reach more vulnerable parents to encourage them to offer their kids a daily dose of proven interactions to intentionally build oral language abilities, to connect them to reading and storytelling experiences at home as well as by to take advantage of fun activities in their libraries, museums, schools, and community centers.

Third, can we help break the summer slide with those community programs that are modernizing their approaches—finding cool ways to get kids and families focused on reading. Today you will hear from some great state-based and community efforts that may be ready to scale.

And fourth, how can we harness technology and well-designed educational media more effectively? Given the fact that the average 3rd grader is engaged with some media platform over 7 hours a day during the school year, according to the Kaiser family foundation—and presumably even longer hours during the summer—what will it take to encourage a new media “food” pyramid? Can we find a way to balance the many tech calories that teach children the skills of communicating with friends on Facebook or playing video games throughout the day, with new habits that certainly encourage two of the old R’s—reading and writing with three new essential 21st century skills—creating, communicating and coding?

One last note: For most children, summertime is a season for exciting growth and change, for relaxing fun by the pool, lake or shore, family trips, cookouts, and deepening important social relationships. Reversing the summer slide isn’t about serving up a new dose of some magical concoction that has never been rolled out before. Whatever we imagine is possible for those children who are failing to read well will likely rely on ramping up those experiences we already know work for kids who are blessed with the advantages of high expectations and highly engaged communities and parents.

Fueling the summer months with new purpose and passion for intellectually ambitious exploration—in libraries, museums, boys and girls clubs, in camps, and at local block parties or concerts is long overdue. I very much look forward to today’s conversation.