by Clarke Slemon PhD, a guest contributor.
Government can do very little to permanently improve the circumstances of those who are less well off without seriously limiting their personal freedom. Consequently, when a good statistical study reveals a change that can be made into a beneficial government policy, it is worthy of both celebration and serious consideration.
Everywhere we read reports of the poorer educational outcomes for children from poorer socio-economic origins. Sometimes the results are attributed to the difference between the schools that poorer and richer students attend. Sometimes it is believed that changing simple metrics, like class size, can make a difference. (As the Drummond report notes, at least for that attempt, there never was any firm data to suggest that would work.) A great amount of hope has been attached to early childhood intervention by ‘head start’ type programmes but the evidence is that the influence of these does last into higher grades.
As I recently learned from a chapter in the popular book, Outliers, the solution has been known since 2001. In Karl L. Alexander, Doris R. Entwisle, and Linda S. Olson’s study published in Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis 23, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 171-191, they show that the learning gap in reading achievement between low socio-economic students and others occurs over the long summer vacation and not during the school year! It is not the teachers or the schools that is causing it but rather the absence of the school experience over the long summer vacation!
In America, an experimental public school network called the KIPP Academy has been established based on this data and hypothesis which is wiping out the academic performance gap for children from disadvantaged environments not just in reading by in writing and maths. For all the details in a readable account, read the chapter, Marita’s Bargain in Outliers by Malcohm Gladwell. It is available from the Toronto Public Library.
A change in the school year to reduce school vacation would particularly benefit York South-Weston, which is the electoral district with the second largest number of socio-economically disadvantaged families in Ontario. It is the provincial governments duty to give us the institutional structures to allow us to help ourselves.