Many people believe that summer school is a waste of time but I think summer school definitely has its place. However, even given the advancements that Chancellor Carmen Fariña has put into place, there is much room for improvement. One way in which we must improve our system is by abolishing social promotion, which is a key ingredient in the recipe for extensive, long-term academic failure. In other words, we need summer school but not just as a mechanism to promote kids; there must be a meaningful assessment or portfolio of student work that shows that they’re ready for the next grade. We must also ensure that we have the proper materials that students require in order to fully execute the lessons provided to them during summer instruction. It’s past time that we make summer school less punitive and more solutions-oriented.
Yet here we go again: it is that time of year when all across the City final grades are being tallied and entered and summer school is looming over the heads of many students who, for a myriad of reasons, earned failing grades in their classes this year. As a result, they will now spend the next four to six weeks, depending on whether they are in middle school or high school, Monday through Thursday from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm back in the classroom, trying again. I’m getting antsy just thinking about it and I’m not even teaching summer school. It’s definitely not the way anyone would choose to spend their summer.
And is this the best way? Are there more effective alternatives to sitting in a hot classroom all day summer long as a means of learning the necessary skills required for success in the next grade? Is summer school the best route to take for achieving that goal?
According to an article in Greenwich Time,
A re-envisioned summer school may be in the future for Greenwich Public Schools. School board members have commenced a program review of summer school, after expressing dissatisfaction with the schedule and a lack of data indicating how the program impacts student achievement…“We have a $1.2 million program that we are not sure is working,” said Barbara O’Neill, a Board of Education member.
I realize that Greenwich serves a much smaller population of students than the New York City Department of Education. But maybe we can still learn from that district. Chancellor Fariña has been trying to redesign summer school in what I believe to be a genuine effort to make it a meaningful experience for all those involved. I taught summer school last year and I taught it about two years ago prior to that so I have some insight into these changes.
Traditionally, schools have had a good deal of leeway in regards to curriculum and time frame. Under the Chancellor’s new vision for summer school, this leeway has been abandoned. All middle school students now follow one prescribed curriculum and all middle school teachers over the summer attend a few days of paid, mandated training for successful implementation of the curriculum. I’m not usually a fan of scripted curricula, but I actually liked the seventh and eighth grade ones that we used last year. The focus was on media literacy, a much needed, very practical and meaningful topic, especially for this age group; however, my one blaring critique would be that after the introductory lessons, the lessons require that students have access to laptops and that access is not always available to them.
A more important area of concern that needs to be addressed is the phenomenon of social promotion. Social promotion is placing a child in the next grade even if that child is not academically ready, for the sake of keeping him/her with their peers. This has been the practice within the DOE for far too long. Some say that, despite all of the changes, it still is. For example, according to the New York Post, “changes in state education law mandate that summer-school promotion not be based on a single test…Summer learning must be more than test prep—this is why we overhauled mandated programs and expanded enrichment classes to serve even more students with a new curriculum, an added week of instruction, and cutting edge STEM programs so students come back in September prepared to succeed,” said DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye.
But the question remains: what if they’re still not prepared to succeed?
I’m not teaching summer school this year (at least as of right now I am not), but for all those teachers teaching and students attending summer school this year, my hope is that legitimate academic and social growth takes place for the students and that my fellow colleagues flourish in their professions, help students who’ve struggled all year make that much needed turn around, and make some extra money while they’re at it. That formula sounds like a win-win for everyone! Have a great summer!