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Summer Learning on Capitol Hill

"What would I do without summer learning?"

That question, posed by Baltimore 4th grader Brandon McKoy on Capitol Hill this morning, capped an interesting event where a "new vision" for summer school was unveiled to congressional staffers and education advocates.

Officials of the National Summer Learning Association and others (including Brandon) highlighted the importance of sustaining—and expanding—high-quality programs, even in tough budget times. Speakers called the programs critical, particularly in terms of easing achievement gaps between students and fighting the summer-learning loss that is a perennial problem for poor children and the schools that educate them.

For too long, the term "summer school" has had a negative ring to it, NSLA contends—one associated with remediation and punishment. In the new report, "A New Vision for Summer School," NSLA envisions helping districts "transcend the punitive model of the past with comprehensive programming that engages both students and teachers." [Updated June 17 with link to full report.]

Speakers, including Mary Barrie of the Minneapolis, Minn., Public Schools, talked about the need to mix learning and enrichment over the summer. Summer school no longer means just books, desks, and classrooms, she and others made clear. "We're really trying to trick our kids into learning," Barrie said of the creative ways Minneapolis is delivering summer learning to students.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also spoke to the crowd briefly, underscoring his support for summer learning. And Emma Vadehra, a deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Education, said federal officials are open to new ideas regarding the use of federal funds for summer school and other learning programs.

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