Summer school could expand

Plan calls for more students but fewer classroom hours


Thousands more Baltimore students would have access to summer school this year under a proposal before the city school board, but the students would spend fewer hours in the classroom than those who went to summer school last year.

The school system would be able to accommodate 27,388 elementary and middle school pupils in summer programs this year, plus the high school students who pay to make up courses they failed, according to a proposal the school board is considering. Last year, about 13,000 city students attended summer programs.

But last year, younger pupils attended full-day summer programs. This year's programs would run for four hours a day, most for four weeks.

Given the system's limited budget, "they're the right painful priorities," said school board member Kalman R. "Buzzy" Hettleman, who last year had harsh words for the system for serving so few children in the summer. Research has long indicated that achievement gaps between affluent and poor children grow during the summer while affluent children have exposure to camps, trips and other activities and poor children do not.

"I think the best course is to serve more children with a half-day academic program than fewer children with a full-day program, even though a full-day program is a good thing," Hettleman said.

The proposal calls for spending at least $8.2 million on summer programs this year, down from $8.9 million last year but much more than the $500,000 spent two years ago at the height of a financial crisis in the system.

This year, all children entering kindergarten through second grade would have access to a summer program. That's consistent with research showing gains in academic achievement when young children have access to summer programs over multiple years, said Ron Fairchild, executive director of the Center for Summer Learning at the Johns Hopkins University. He called the proposal "a dramatic step forward" for the school system.

In addition, there would be programs for all students entering sixth and ninth grades. And Title 1 schools, those that serve a high percentage of children from low-income families would also offer programs to children entering third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades.

The school system calculated its budget for the programs assuming about half of eligible children would attend.

City school system officials are reluctant to talk about the proposal and say they don't want to raise parents' hopes falsely, in case they are unable to find sufficient funding in the budget for the 2006-2007 school year. Funding for the proposal will be included in the system's operating budget, which is subject to a school board vote next month.

Under the proposal they submitted to the school board, the programs for children entering kindergarten and sixth and ninth grades would only run for two weeks. At a board meeting last month, Hettleman said that's far too short.

"I don't think you can get into academics at all in just a two-week program, particularly for kids entering kindergarten," he said at the meeting. As a result of Hettleman's concerns, the school system is now trying to find the money to expand the kindergarten and sixth-grade programs to four weeks.

Board member Diane Bell McKoy cautioned at the meeting that summer programming will be competing for funding with many other worthy initiatives. "We've got a whole bunch of needs," she said, "and I'm not sure what we can do."

In future years, Hettleman said, he wants to see the school system requiring low-performing students to attend summer school to advance to the next grade.

Meanwhile, the system is working with the Center for Summer Learning to develop a long-term plan for summer programming, an attempt to ensure that funding is automatically set aside every year. Officials say they want that plan to include summer programs to prepare high school students for the state exams they will soon need to pass to graduate.

By creating a long-term summer plan, Fairchild said, the school system will better be able to attract private funders to supplement public dollars. That will help the system to realize its goal of offering a summer program to all 85,000 city students by 2010.

This year, the Center for Summer Learning plans to place 75 college students as interns in summer school classrooms to give pupils extra attention and to recruit prospective teachers.

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