Education inequality is an undeniable issue in the United States. While this may seem like too big of an issue to take on, one study shows that enrolling students in summer school programs can help close the gap considerably. New York City based non-profit, Practice Makes Perfect, is attempting to do just that by implementing summer school programs in low-income neighborhoods.
Founded by 23-year-old Karim Abouelnaga, the organization aims to keep students prepared for school by keeping their minds engaged during the summer. The son of two parents who emigrated from Egypt, Abouelnaga is all too familiar with the difficulties low-income students face in school. In seventh grade, he had 60 absences because he wasn’t engaged and his parents didn’t force him to go to school.
“Two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap can be directly attributed to unequal summer learning opportunities for low-income students,” Abouelnaga tells MiLLENNiAL. He explains that relearning old material every year essentially causes students to lose half of their education. Practice Makes Perfect hopes to change this by putting underprivileged students in an intensive academic program for five weeks each summer.
How Practice Makes Perfect Bridges the Education Gap
What sets the program apart from other summer school programs is the use of the near-peer effect. Practice Makes Perfect pairs its students with mentors who are only four years older. The hope is that by fostering more of a sibling-type relationship, students will have a role model who has done what they thought wasn’t possible.
“One of the biggest reasons high-potential, low-income kids don’t go to great colleges is because they’ve never had a college-aged role model,” Abouelnaga says. “It’s one thing for someone to say ‘I believe in you. You can do it.’ It’s another thing for someone to say ‘I believe in you. You can do it because I did it.’”
This is exactly the experience 14-year-old Paul Flores had while attending Practice Makes Perfect. After having worked with the program for a year and a half, the Astoria native tells us that before Practice Makes Perfect he felt like he wasn’t smart enough compared to his peers. Flores would usually spend his summer days in the pool. He says the program helped him recuperate things he missed at school and improved his writing and math skills. Flores is now a volunteer with Practice Makes Perfect and has dreams of going to Cornell University to become an architect. While he’s always wanted to go to college, Flores says he wants to go to Cornell because his mentors are from there.
Like Flores, other students work on writing and math, as well as reading every Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The program may help students stay mentally active during the summer months, but its long-term effects have the potential to greatly boost economic prosperity.
Abouelnaga explains that the McKinsey study, which inspired his work, found the achievement gap cost the US a minimum of $325 billion in GDP each year.
“[The study] said that was the equivalent to a permanent economic recession,” he says. “The costs are specifically in government assistance and not being able to contribute to the tax system in our society. So it’s lost productivity and also the investment in social services.”
Is Public Education Worth its Return on Investment?
While the Practice Makes Perfect model may not be the best for every city, the benefits (both long and short term) are worth the investment. However, finding funding isn’t easy. Most of the time, non-profits in the primary and secondary education sector are left raising money on their own with little governmental assistance.
For instance, Abouelnaga tells us that last year, non-profits in the education sector collectively raised one billion dollars for programs not funded by government. In that same amount of time, the government spent $626 billion on education, of which only a small percentage went to summer school programs.
“You have a $626 billion pie of funding that goes to all these different areas of education,” Abouelnaga says, “but two months out of the year, every single year, aren’t invested in.”
The biggest issue is that the federal government sees summer as an optional school term. Typically, the decision to invest in programs for summer is made by each district and even when districts decide to invest, the number of students they can accept is limited.
The easiest way for summer programs to expand and help more students is by receiving financial support. Practice Makes Perfect receives most of its funds from individuals and foundations. While some people may believe paying taxes contributes to education, Abouelnaga says it’s not a full return on investment. He describes the situation as the equivalent of getting 50 cents of value for every dollar spent.
Ways to Get Involved and Help Spread the Message
If getting only half your money’s worth out of your child’s education doesn’t sound appealing, contributing to the solution is easier than you think. First, you need to raise awareness in your community. Many people don’t realize that a lack of free or affordable summer learning-opportunities is an issue. One way to help bring awareness is to write to your local elected officials, stressing that your community needs and wants access to summer learning opportunities. It’s also a good idea to note the benefits.
After reaching out, advocating for these public programs should be your next step. Whether it be at your local city hall, PTA or school district meeting, speak up about the need for summer learning programs. Finally, donating can help these programs go a long way. Money isn’t the only thing you can donate; volunteering your time as a mentor or tutor can be just as helpful.
To learn more about Practice Makes Perfect or find out how you can join their cause, visit their website.