STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - December 20, 2005)
Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce a bill--the ``STEP UP Act''--to establish grants for summer school enrichment programs to increase the academic skills of students in need.
According to the 2005 Nation's Report Card of Educational Progress, the gap in reading scores between fourth grade children in poverty and their more affluent peers did not decrease between 1998 and 2005. Fewer than half of the fourth graders eligible for free or reduced priced lunch are able to read at even the basic level--a level attained by more than three-quarters of wealthier students. This data confirms that too many of our children are not attaining skills at levels that will lead to success, and too often, it is the children most in need who are left behind by the educational system.
Teachers understand that students return to school in the fall at levels below their performance of the previous spring. Educators know this as summer learning loss. Research has shown that students, on average, lose more than one month of reading skills and two months of math skills over the summer. That is the average.
But the impact of summer learning loss is greatest for children living in poverty, children with learning disabilities, and children who do not speak English at home. Achievement levels for such children often plummet during the summer, so that that the reading skills of disadvantaged students can fall more that three months behind the scores of their more affluent peers. The summer learning losses for children in poverty accumulate over the elementary school years, so these students end up falling further and further behind in school.
Several programs have been successful in countering summer learning loss. The BELL programs and the Teach Baltimore Summer Academy provide evidence that students can achieve months of progress, rather than months of decline, when they participate in structured enrichment and education programs for several weeks during the summer. These programs are successful but reach too few of the students who need them.
The bill I am introducing today establishes a grant program for states to support summer learning in selected local districts. These grants would be used to help students in the early elementary grades who are living in poverty, by supporting their participation in six weeks of summer school. These summer opportunities could be offered by a variety of providers, including the public schools, but also by other community organizations that have shown success in providing educational enrichment, such as youth development organizations, nonprofits, and summer enrichment camps. These summer programs would be aligned with the school year curriculum to increase the reading and math skills of students in need and to provide them with learning opportunities to avoid a path that might otherwise lead to failure in school--a path that too often ends, years later, with these students dropping out of the educational system.
The achievement gap in education begins in the early grades and remains a burden for too many throughout their time in school. It is becoming increasingly clear that much of this early difference can be combated by structured summer learning opportunities. That is the purpose of this bill, and I hope my colleagues will support this important legislation.
Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of the bill be printed in the RECORD