Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Dark Side of Summer Vacation

Jonathan Todres

For most U.S. children, summer is a time of fun, a break from school.  While play is important for physical, cognitive, and emotional development, summer does have its downside: summer learning loss. Research consistently finds that during the course of the summer, students of all ages forget some of what they learned and regress.  Evidence suggests that summer learning loss equates to at least one month of instruction assessed by grade level equivalents. Student knowledge declines more in mathematics than reading, perhaps attributable in part to the greater emphasis on summer reading lists in some areas.  Equally important, the summer learning loss exacerbates the achievement gap: “The meta-analysis revealed that all students, regardless of the resources in their home, lost roughly equal amounts of math skills over summer. However, substantial economic differences were found for reading. On some measures, middle-class children showed gains in reading achievement over summer, but disadvantaged children showed losses. Reading comprehension scores of both income groups declined, but the scores of disadvantaged students declined more.” (see Harris Cooper).

This is not a call for year-round schooling. Rather the summer learning loss and achievement gap are important reminders of the many challenges we face in the human rights arena.  Making human rights meaningful requires attention to subtle factors that have significant effects. Children have the right to education, which includes a mandate on the state to make primary education “compulsory and available free to all” and secondary education “available and accessible to every child” (CRC, article 28).  In developing countries, waiving school fees makes education accessible for a huge number of children, yet more hidden costs – books, uniforms, transportation, etc. – can leave the most marginalized children still without consistent access to education. Similarly, here in the U.S., free public education might provide access during the academic year, but that education is made less meaningful if disadvantaged children are falling further behind their peers each summer.  From a human rights perspective, this means that technical compliance with human rights treaty language might not capture all that is essential to children seeking to realize their education rights or other rights.

The nondiscrimination clause of human rights treaties is particularly relevant in this context. It imposes an obligation on states to ensure that all children have equal access to education and other opportunities. As human rights researchers and advocates, our job is to uncover the multitude of barriers—big and small—to the full realization of rights, especially for vulnerable populations, and to ensure that government responses to human rights treaty obligations go beyond technical compliance to secure the full rights of every individual.



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