Reducing Summer Learning Loss: Thoughts from Ron Fairchild

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On February 4th, Philanthropy New York hosted a members briefing (presented by the Altman FoundationThe Wallace Foundation, and The New York Community Trust, with the New York City Youth Funders Network) that explored how funders can better coordinate and support access to high-quality summer learning programs in New York City. We are pleased to have the program’s moderator, Ron Fairchild, Founding CEO of the National Summer Learning Association, share his thoughts with Smart Assets.

For decades, driven by research that shows the devastating effects of summer learning loss, private philanthropy has funded relatively small-scale programs run by nonprofits and other entities designed to expand summer learning opportunities for low-income youth. In most major U.S. cities, it’s not difficult to find a small number of comprehensive, high-quality summer programs that use philanthropic support to provide disadvantaged youth with a mixture of academic enrichment and recreation during the summer months. Such programs often partner with public schools, but generally exist outside the formal structures and funding streams of large urban districts and other public agencies, which constrains efforts to bring comprehensive programs to scale.

Those programs that do receive public funding from sources like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program face major challenges in expanding their services and sustaining investments beyond short-term grant cycles. While public funding often includes summer as an “allowable use,” the bulk of funding is directed toward school day or afterschool programs. As a result, few innovative summer programs that rely primarily on either private or public grant funding have been able to scale their operations dramatically enough to serve large numbers of young people in a consistent way.

Here are just a few of the ways funders can help to change this dynamic and level the playing field for low-income youth:

  • Invest in data collection to help determine current levels of access and participation in summer programming at state and local levels. Strategic grantmaking in this area will provide critical information to policymakers and advocates about gaps in service and current levels of supply and demand.
  • Fund new, summer-specific curricula for out-of-school providers that recognize the unique features and assets of summer programs as distinct from after-school programs, as well as school-based curricula that make remedial summer school programs more engaging and enriching.
  • Support the development of professional learning communities at the state or local level to ensure that providers receive comprehensive expert help about summer program design and practice to ramp up program quality.
  • Support unconventional partnerships and provide incentives for program providers that are willing to combine half-day programs, reduce transportation costs, and make better use of existing facilities and community resources.
  • Fund intermediary organizations to establish state policy workgroups to study the issue and build political will. This is a particularly effective strategy for moving the agenda forward without explicitly asking for more state funding during the economic crisis.

You’ll find more on this subject in our paper, It’s Time for Summer: An Analysis of Recent Policy and Funding Opportunities, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. In it, we provide strategic recommendations to maximize investments within existing policy and fiscal frameworks. Our new blog, Summer Changes Everything, also contains a wealth of information (and acts as a venue for interesting dialogue) around summer learning.

There’s a significant opportunity right now for private funders to play a critical role in accelerating the pace of change required to break down many of the barriers that exist during the summer, particularly for low-income youth who have no choice but to rely on already very limited and dwindling public options. Whether it’s making the case for summer learning, starting a program, providing incentive to innovate, or fostering collaboration, funder investment in summer is proven to reap rewards.

Ron Fairchild is the founding CEO of the National Summer Learning Association. He also directs the activity of Summer Learning Advocates, an affiliated organization focused on increasing public funding for quality summer learning programs in low-income communities. The Association’s work builds on over 15 years of experience and success as the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, where Mr. Fairchild was Executive Director from 2002 through 2009. Under his leadership, the organization grew from a local program to a national intermediary organization that works with a 50-state network of more than 5,000 summer learning program providers that collectively serve more than 2 million young people annually. Mr. Fairchild is widely recognized as a national authority on how to expand learning opportunities for young people. He has authored numerous publications and speaks regularly on topics related to public policy, research, and models of effective summer learning programs. His frequent appearances in the media include segments on NPRCNNC-SPANNBC Nightly News, and the CBS Early Show. Mr. Fairchild’s background in education and youth development includes serving as Director of Education Programs with the national office of Boys & Girls Clubs of America, and as an Education Associate with the Public Education Network in Washington, DC. He is a former classroom teacher with experience teaching both middle- and high school students. Mr. Fairchild earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and History—as well as a Master of Education degree—from Vanderbilt University.

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