Summer School Is 'Cool' - and Business Is Hot

Article excerpt

The air conditioners are churning overtime at Moten Elementary School, as some 200 students from one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington read and cipher their way through summer school. With temperatures topping 100 degrees, no one seems in a rush to get back to sneaker-searing sidewalks.

"Summer School is Cooler!" reads a student poster hanging on the wall - and students insist that they're not just talking temperature.

"If I were at home, I'd just get up and watch TV. In summer school, you learn more, so that when you go back to winter school, you can be on top of stuff," says sixth-grader Burchelle Hewlett. A classmate adds that he doesn't miss being out on a basketball court because "playing outside doesn't get you where you want to be" - and he wants to be a lawyer. Another notes that summer school helps you "stay out of trouble."

Summer school used to be a bit of a lark - a little enrichment here, a few activities there, and no requirement to show up. But here, as in other cities where standardized test scores have been dismal, summer school is becoming serious business.

For the first time, Washington public schools are requiring summer school for students who score poorly on the Stanford-9 exam, one of five nationwide tests. This spring, 76 percent of the district's 11th graders scored "below basic" in math, which means that they had little or no mastery of the skills needed in that grade, while 46 percent scored "below basic" in reading. In all, some 20,000 students are attending classes this summer, many of their own volition.

"We are a community of people who care about our children, but we are failing them horrifically," said Emily Washington, a member of Washington's Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees, at a planning meeting for summer school last April. "A large percentage of them are poor black children. Many of them cannot read. We cannot afford to allow that to persist."

The move toward mandatory summer school to help kids meet higher academic standards started in cities, such as Chicago, but is developing into a national trend, educators say.

"Many states have developed lots of laws concerning school and district and teacher accountability, but are just beginning to focus on student accountability," says Kathy Christie, an analyst with the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. "One of the big questions that school districts have to think about as they implement higher standards is what to do with the kids that don't make it," she adds.

In 1995, Chicago opted to end social promotion and require students who score badly on standardized tests to attend summer school. The city's summer program started with 22,000 students and expanded to 160,000 at a cost of $63 million this year, of which 49,000 students are required to attend for academic reasons.

Other cities and states are adopting features of the Chicago program.

Last year, Denver launched a mandatory summer program for at-risk readers in Grades 3, 5, and 8. Starting this summer, Long Beach, Calif., third-graders who are reading below grade level must also attend a summer reading program.

Georgia offers both a remedial summer-school program and a course to help students who failed one or more of the five exams now required for graduation. Neither program is mandatory.

In proactive Minnesota, schools are offering summer-school courses to help students prep for the state's basic skills test, which determines whether students will be able to graduate from the eighth grade and high school.

In Texas, summer school is not yet mandatory, but some school districts are offering extended-year programs for students not likely to be promoted to the next grade level. …