Support summer learning

March 13, 2006

Among the many ideas competing for dollars in the Baltimore school system's 2006-2007 budget is a proposal to provide summer school classes to nearly one-third of city students. That's more than the system was able to accommodate last year, but this summer's students will likely spend fewer hours in class. That would be an unfortunate trade-off. Like early childhood education, summer learning opportunities are no longer a luxury for the few, but should be made available to all students.

Studies have shown that all students lose more than two months in math computation during the summer. Low-income students also lose about two months in reading comprehension and word recognition, while middle-income students experience minimal gains in reading performance during the summer. Once regular classes start again, teachers might spend the first four to six weeks going back over material their students did not retain.

That's hardly efficient or cost-effective. While the school calendar has barely changed in decades, expectations for students have changed dramatically in recent years. With increasing emphasis on annual assessments, starting in the early grades, students and school systems simply cannot afford to spend six to eight weeks idling in the summer. Researchers also point to the cumulative effect of summer learning loss as a key reason why in-school achievement gaps are widening among students of different family incomes.

As Baltimore school officials prepare the 2006-2007 budget, they are tentatively looking to spend about $8.2 million to provide four hours of summer school classes to about 27,400 elementary and middle school students over four weeks. Last year, only about 13,000 students attended summer school, but they were mostly in full-day programs.

Ideally, all Baltimore students, from kindergarten through high school, would be able to attend summer classes for six to eight hours and for at least four weeks - and a long-term plan is being developed to provide summer classes to all students by 2010. That's something that the greater Baltimore community - including the city, the state, community-based groups, businesses and philanthropic organizations - should rally to support, with financial and program resources. Summer school should not be a win-or-lose proposition for students each year.

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