Sarah Pitcock’s Abridged Remarks: Speaking Truth to Power

Oct 25, 2016

Sarah Pitcock’s RemarksThis morning, I want to share a little bit about what’s new and notable in the summer learning field and then we’ll get right into our conference theme and our panel.

We’ve had a big year! Shortly after last year’s conference, we convened a series of three events at the White House as part of the Summer Opportunity Project which was the first ever national effort to bring together summer learning, summer meals, and summer jobs at the federal level and the local level. So, we brought together cross-sector teams from more than 20 communities. We recognized nine Champions of Change in Summer Learning with the White House Senior Advisor, Valerie Jarrett and the Secretaries of Education, Labor and Agriculture at the White House.

And as a result, we saw a call in the President’s budget this year for a new $2 billion summer jobs program and just recently, that was introduced as a bill in the house as part of the Opening Doors for Youth Act. We saw a new Summer Opportunity AmeriCorps program that brings $15 million in new education awards over the next three years. And we released a funding resource guide for summer learning with the White House and the U.S. Department of Ed that’s been downloaded more than 10,000 times. So, many of our Summer Opportunity communities are here at this conference, and we’re excited to continue building that momentum.

Summer Learning Day in July was also a huge success this year. The First Lady recorded a PSA that aired on more than 850 iHeart Radio stations. Hopefully you got to hear it. And Clear Channel also donated more than 1,000 digital billboards.

Across the country, we had more than 1,100 Summer Learning Day events.

Our hashtag, #KeepKidsLearning, trended on Twitter. It was kind of the coolest thing that’s ever happened. And we reached more than 11 million Twitter users with our hashtag this year on Summer Learning Day. Finally, 12 governors and several mayors issued proclamations on that day. And if you didn’t participate in Summer Learning Day last year, just get ready for 2017. I believe it is July 13th so mark your calendars. It’s going to be bigger than ever!

So, all of that awareness building is leading to really tangible policy actions at the state and the federal level.

The year, NSLA has been tracking more than 230 state bills focused on summer learning ranging from literacy to STEM to workforce development. 50 of those bills have passed so far.

At the federal level, the Congress has seen 49 bills related to afterschool and summer. A big win for the entire field was the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act back in December which preserved the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and also opens some new doors for funding learning outside of the school day.

So, states are working now on their ESSA implementation plans and they need to hear from you on how summer and afterschool fit into your local education landscape. Congress is also currently working on their budget for 2017, and they need to hear from you too about how they should fully fund 21st Century and all the other programs that you depend on to operate your summer and afterschool programs. So, NSLA has an ESSA stakeholder guide to give you all sorts of tips and tools for engaging in those conversations at your state and local level. And we also have a workshop here at the conference focused on the Every Student Succeeds Act.

There have also been great advancements in research this year.

RAND released new findings from the largest-ever study on summer learning. The project which was funded by The Wallace Foundation, seeks to find out whether voluntary, district-led summer learning programs that combine academics and enrichment, five days a week for at least five to six weeks, can make a meaningful difference in helping low-income elementary students succeed in school. And the answer is “yes.”

The impacts were educationally meaningful. High-attenders, who are defined as attending at least 20 days of the program, performed better than the control group in math after one summer. After two summers, those high attenders performed better in math, in reading and in social-emotional skills. And their gains in math and reading were comparable to the learning that takes place in 20 to 25 percent of a school year. But we also learned from this study that young people who don’t attend enough of the program, do not benefit in a meaningful way compared to young people who aren’t offered the program at all.

So, why is this research important? One – I want you to use it to strengthen your case for what you’re doing right, and two – I want you to use it to make adjustments and an argument for doing things differently. Summer is over before we know it each year and we don’t have the luxury of not paying attention to research. We have a short window to get it right and to build on what we know gives young people a leg up – whether it be hiring well-qualified teachers, building in enough instructional time or making sure attendance is consistent.

And as valuable as the data on what academic gains are possible, are the insights and guidance about how these gains can be achieved. RAND’s recommendations for program operators come from thousands of hours of observations of data-collected analyses of these continuous improvement efforts in five districts and their local partners. There is so much to learn from this study. And I’ll be moderating a panel in the first workshop block this morning.

We are also excited to be releasing a new comprehensive look at the summer learning research base. It’s called The Summer Slide and hopefully you saw it last night or this morning in the bookstore we have in our exhibit area.

Karl Alexander, who is the godfather of summer learning – wave for everyone, Karl. –Karl brought together a dream team of researchers to cover off on everything you could ever want to know about summer learning. So, we’ve got chapters on program quality, on parent-engagement in the home environment, on funding, on policy, on evaluation. There’s even a chapter on what summer learning is like in Canada because haven’t we always wondered. I’m serious about that because I always have. And there’s a chapter on rural programs as well. So, we’ll be doing a signing after this session and I highly recommend if you are nerdy at all about summer learning that you check out the book.

Okay. Now, I want to transition to our theme and to our panel.

As you may know, after 10 years with NSLA, I will be stepping down as CEO in just a few short weeks. I’ve had the most incredible opportunity, in 10 years, to build expertise on this issue by crisscrossing the country and spending time visiting dozens of amazing summer learning programs. As we lead into our panel – Speaking Truth to Power – I want to share with you some of my reflections on our conference theme.

So first, on Daring to Disrupt:

When I think about disrupting the status quo – I think about it in two ways – time for learning and support for working parents.

In 10 years, it’s safe to say I have given more presentations on the need for summer learning programs than anyone else. Time and time again, I’ve spoken to superintendents, to mayors, to legislators, to corporations and to foundations working to build support for our issue.

And I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences to me. The research on afterschool and on summer is so compelling and so intuitive. So as we share this research, we get lots and lots of heads nodding – right? – and people always agree – and yes, these issues are so important. And yet, we have not seen the kind of disruptive change that will be necessary for equity and excellence that acknowledges that young people spend 80 percent of their time not in school.

Paul Reville, a former Massachusetts Secretary of Ed and current summer learning champion, described it like this at our conference a few years ago: He said, currently, we treat K-12 education like a 50 yard dash. We fire a gun in kindergarten and we expect all young people to finish in the race in the same amount of time, despite the fact that some people are starting the race 20 yards behind the starting line, and some start 20 yards ahead of the starting line. It simply doesn’t make sense to give all people the same education and the same amount of learning time.

As I hope you know, because we talk about it so much, two-thirds of fourth graders in this country are not proficient in reading. Two-thirds! So I say, what do we have to lose by shaking things up and investing more in the truly inequitable times when school is out?

Not only is investing in out-of-school time critical to the achievement and life success of students, it’s critical to the success of their parents and caregivers as well.

I read an op-ed in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago. It’s entitled The Perpetual Panic of American Parenthood. And I bet parents in the audience can imagine like 30 things that be about – right? There’s so many things to panic about. But it’s a really interesting analysis from an American living in France about how truly terrible our supports this country are for parents. Yes, other wealthy nations do better to subsidize things like parental leave, childcare, afterschool, summer and college. But so do less wealthy nations as well.

In 33 states in this country, childcare costs more than in-state tuition, only you don’t have 18 years to save for it. And the average cost of a week of summer programs nationally is $288. So, this is not just a low-income problem. This is a middle income problem.

And that’s why you’ve seen this issue of childcare come up in the presidential election – one of the only issues focused on children at all. And I think it’s a great thing for afterschool and summer.

Because, why do we need childcare? For the exact same reasons we need afterschool and summer. So parents can work! And build a great life for their children.

In preparation for our panel, I want to offer a framework for thinking about equity and excellence.

As I mentioned, in my career I have worked with programs in every reach of this country. So, I’ve been in South Bronx, South LA and the south side of Chicago. I have also been deep in the woods. I have been on a blindfolded trust walk, have climbed a mountain in California, have been by a campfire.

And to me, what I take from all of those experiences combined, is that equity is access to people, services, resources and information that reflect an understanding of where I come from, where I am and where I’m going.

And if we add excellence in to that definition of equity, it becomes, access to quality people, quality services, quality resources and quality information that reflect an understanding of where I come from, where I am and where I’m going.

And here’s what I know – the greatest opportunity we can give young people are relationships that matter and relationships that last.

So, as we think about relationships and equity, where should the bar be? How high should we aim?

I always go back to one of my favorite programs, NJ LEEP.

NJ LEEP is a rigorous year-round program in Newark for first generation college hopefuls. In ninth grade, they participate in a constitutional law seminar in the summer. And during the school year, they participate in mock trial and debate after school. Throughout their four years in the program, they participate in professional internships, SAT prep and the college application process.

And while the instruction at this program is exemplary, it’s really not what sets it apart for me. It’s the incredible cultural capital they build and nurture in their students. They help them build networks where there were none, networks of lawyers and professors, networks of alums from the program that help them navigate the college application process and welcome them to campus with open arms. So many people who know where they come from, where they are and where they are going.

That is equity.

And that is what higher income kids wake up to every day.

Sarah Pitcock

Chief Executive Officer, National Summer Learning Association