Summer school lessons

Our view: Extend summer school's benefits to every child

August 04, 2008

Come the end of August, thousands of city youngsters will be returning to school. But for many of them, it will feel as if they hardly left. This year, about 22,000 students attended the city's monthlong, half-day summer learning programs. Only a fraction of them came to make up courses they failed. Most were there to take advantage of enrichment courses in reading, math and the arts designed to help them retain skills learned the previous year and give them a leg up on the next.

The purpose of summer school has changed since 2003, when the city adopted a policy of social promotion that allowed students to pass no matter how poorly they performed in the classroom. The change was controversial then, and it remains so, but one positive result was that the emphasis in summer school shifted from remediation - so-called make-up courses - to enrichment programs that, in effect, create a longer school year for the students enrolled in them. Promotions no longer hinge on summer school attendance.

The number of children held back a grade in 2003 is roughly the same as the number in the current summer school session. A large proportion of city students from disadvantaged backgrounds are at risk of failing, and their numbers remain fairly constant over the years. Summer programs let educators give them extra attention without holding them back a grade, which studies show only makes kids more likely to drop out.

Despite funding cuts, the city managed to continue the programs this year, mostly by "clustering" those previously offered at separate schools in a single facility. It was a clever use of limited resources but only a stopgap solution, because there are thousands more kids who could benefit from the extra help.

School officials should consider lengthening the school day or even adding another month to the school year. That would require action by the legislature, but the success of the current program argues strongly for the idea's merit. If the goal is to ensure that every kid gets a quality education, bold steps will be needed to get the schools back on track.

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