Summer schooling proposal criticized

City board member says plan neglects some pupils who need help the most

Remediation no longer the focus

April 25, 2005|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore school board member is criticizing the system's plan for summer school, saying it excludes some low-performing students because summer classes would not be offered citywide.

In a memo to schools Chief Bonnie S. Copeland and fellow board members last week, Kalman R. "Buzzy" Hettleman described the plan as an unwise departure from the system's past summer programs. Those programs targeted failing students, who had to enroll in classes to receive a second chance to be promoted.

"Many of the children who need the help most are not going to get it," Hettleman said in an interview. "When you have limited funds, the research and moral imperative is to serve the [academically] neediest children first, beginning in the early grades."

Last year, the system spent $500,000 on summer school, a large cutback prompted by a financial crisis. The move drew criticism from education advocates.

The new plan is an increase over last summer's scant offerings, but only about one-third of the city's roughly 88,000 public school students will be served.

The plan calls for providing a citywide "summer bridge" program to students in grades one, six and nine to help them in the transition to a new school, at a cost of $3.5 million. The system also is teaming with a nonprofit group to provide a summer reading camp for some second-graders.

In addition, officials plan to provide daylong academic and cultural classes to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders in high-poverty schools using $5 million in federal Title I grant money. Children in those grades take the Maryland School Assessments, standardized tests that are used to measure a school's progress.

High school students can enroll in fee-based summer classes to make up credits.

The school board reviewed the plan and gave Copeland an informal go-ahead in January, shortly before Hettleman joined the board. Hettleman previously helped the system design its student promotion policy and wants to see summer school linked to promotion.

Hettleman said this summer's plan excludes kindergartners and seventh- and eighth-graders, some second-graders, and some children in schools that do not receive Title I money.

Hettleman has requested that Copeland give the board other options to consider. He also asked administrators to present data showing the benefits of summer school tied to promotion.

He said he opposes giving summer programs to high-performing children in Title I schools while providing none to struggling children at non-Title I schools.

Hettleman also said it was a mistake not to make summer school mandatory for failing students, because some might not have parents who would take the initiative to enroll them in summer school.

One thing Hettleman and Copeland's staff agree on is that it would be ideal to offer summer school to all students.

"It's the funding that's limiting this," said Linda Chinnia, the system's chief academic officer. "Our goal is that we would be able to offer summer learning opportunities for all students."

But Chinnia also said the plan reflects a new philosophy about summer school. Officials want to use summer classes less for remediation and more to help students get ahead.

For example, Chinnia said, "the sixth and ninth grades are key grades for future success in school. If we really help those children be successful, we take away some of the issues" that cause pupils to fall severely behind in middle school or drop out soon after entering high school, as many do.

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