Summer Reading


Summer is here!

For middle class children across the country, summer is an opportunity for fun, sleeping in, and developmental activities. Middle class kids usually spend their summers at camps and playing sports, and have support at home to do reading and math enrichment. This means that, come fall, they'll have progressed in key ways.

For low-income students across our country, the situation couldn't be more different. Unless they're among the few fortunate kids who attend the Children's Defense Fund's Freedom Schools, Summer Advantage, SummerBridge, or other effective summer programs, low-income students typically lose significant chunks of what they learned in school the prior year. Studies consistently show that low income students lose more than two months of learning in mathematics and in reading over the summer. This is a tragedy for all of those students, and an enormous burden for teachers. In a recent survey of teachers, two-thirds said they spend at least a month re-teaching their students concepts after summer break.

So what can we do?

The obvious, difficult thing to do is to substantially lengthen the school year and shift to a continuous learning calendar with several breaks throughout the year instead of a very long and, for low-income students, detrimental summer vacation. Balsz School District in Phoenix, which serves a predominately low-income, Spanish-speaking population, has expanded its school year to 200 days and is seeing test scores increase sharply. High achieving charter networks like KIPP credit some of their success to their extended year: 200 days, instead of the average 180, and an extended day. (For more information on extended learning research and strategies, check out the Wallace Foundation.)

Until then, parents must try to keep their children engaged and learning over the long summer break. There are a few ways to do this:
  • Read, read, read! Host a monthly book club for your children and their friends. Require your children to read for at least thirty minutes a day or, better yet, for an hour. Make a weekly library trip for your children. And don't leave yourself out: check yourself out one of these ten favorite reads from me and my colleagues at Stand for Children (see below).

1. Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
Dive into topics like how racism is taught, and why kids TV shows might be sending the wrong message. NutureShock is a Freakonomics for parenting, an easily understandable guide to how conventional wisdom can be very wrong.

2. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander (Author), Cornel West (Introduction)
Praised by Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier as "brave and bold," this book directly challenges the notion that the election of Barack Obama signals a new era of colorblindness. With dazzling candor, legal scholar Michelle Alexander argues that "we have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control -- relegating millions to a permanent second-class status -- even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness. In the words of Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, this book is a "call to action."

3. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-brainers Will Rule the Future, by Daniel H. Pink
The future belongs to a different kind of person with a different kind of mind: artists, inventors, storytellers-creative and holistic "right-brain" thinkers whose abilities mark the fault line between who gets ahead and who doesn't. Drawing on research from around the world, Pink (author of To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Motivating Others) outlines the six fundamentally human abilities that are absolute essentials for professional success and personal fulfillment -- and reveals how to master them. A Whole New Mind takes readers to a daring new place, and a provocative and necessary new way of thinking about a future that's already here.

4. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong , by James W. Loewen
Loewen explores how historical myths continue to be perpetuated in today's climate and adds an eye-opening chapter on the lies surrounding 9/11 and the Iraq War. From the truth about Columbus' historic voyages to an honest evaluation of our national leaders, Loewen revives our history, restoring the vitality and relevance it truly possesses. Thought provoking, nonpartisan, and often shocking, Loewen unveils the real America in this iconoclastic classic beloved by high school teachers, history buffs, and enlightened citizens across the country.

5. The Leader in Me, by Stephen Covey
We read Stephen Covey's The Leader in Me and it is a great book for parents who want to learn strategies to help their child at home and at school. The book talks about how the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People philosophy is being incorporated to teach students leadership skills and empower them to take charge of their lives in positive ways.

6. The Big Picture, by Dennis Littky
Littky describes the process he went through in developing Big Picture Learning schools which are alternative high schools focused on project and internship based learning. After reading this book, Stand Worcester organizer Maggie Paynich and her mom helped her younger sister enroll in The Met, Littky's Big Picture Learning School in Providence, RI. Maggie's sister has thrived at The Met. This book will open parent's eyes to innovative ways of education that most public schools are not able to utilize.

7. The Smartest Kids in the World, by Amanda Ripley.
This is a must read for anyone who wants to know why other countries significantly outperform the United States educationally despite investing fewer resources, and how, together, we can improve public education in our country. The book is engaging, thoughtful, and accessible. I highly recommend it. (It is available for purchase in August).

8. Parent Roadmaps
Prepare for the changes coming to many schools in the fall (the new Common Core Standards) by reading these Parent Roadmaps from the Council of the Great City Schools. Each roadmap gives a short, readable overview of what your child will be learning in his or her grade next year and how you can support his or her learning at home.

9. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore.
This book makes it clear that your zip code does not have to determine your outcome. The kids that succeed in life have positive role models, parents that read with them, and teachers and counselors that ask how they're doing. I'm going to make sure that parents at Stand Oregon's summer literacy fair know to look up this title!

10. How Children Succeed by Paul Tough
The premise of How Children Succeed is that teaching our children hard knowledge is actually less important than helping them develop qualities like persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit and self-confidence. We recommend this book to the parents in our Stand University for Parents program in Memphis, Tenn., because it helps all of us understand the need to foster a "whatever it takes," attitude in children about their own success.