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Children spend 75% of their waking hours outside of the classroom, yet our nation does shockingly little to capture educational value from this time for low-income kids. Our system treats their families as liabilities, rather than assets.

Students in underresourced communities lack continuous access to learning at home and school, resulting in slow progress during the school year and chronic regressions over the summer. Research finds that two-thirds of the achievement gap among high school students is attributable to summer learning loss in elementary school. This is symptomatic of an even deeper problem: low-income parents have been excluded from the process of educating their kids.

Connecting the dots from elementary school to adulthood tells a sobering story. A student who cannot read on grade level by 4th grade is four times more likely to drop out of high school than his or her proficiently reading peer. Add poverty to the mix, and a student is 13 times more likely to drop out. Nationally, only 17% of low-income 4th graders are reading proficiently; not coincidentally, only 9% earn a college degree. Low educational attainment translates into underemployment and financial hardship. The national adult illiteracy rate of 14% closely mirrors our poverty rate of 15%.

A McKinsey & Company report found that the achievement gap is costing the US economy $300-500 billion each year, the equivalent of a permanent national recession. Alongside this economic imperative is an ideological one: America cannot deliver on its promise as the land of opportunity while the achievement gap persists. With the US losing its global competitive edge—and the American dream in peril—we can’t afford not to solve this problem. What’s more, we can solve it with the people and assets already embedded in every school community.

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