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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 05/ 8/2010

Fairfax County slashes summer school

By Valerie Strauss

My guest is Alison Lake, who has worked as a teacher, tutor, education columnist and Blue Ribbon Schools evaluator. She now works at the Washington Post. She has two children, ages 7 and 9, and lives in Reston, Va.

By Alison Lake
Fairfax County has opted to cut the majority of summer school programs to save $6.3 million as it tries to whittle down a huge budget shortfall.

The move raises concerns that struggling students are likely to suffer academically and overall achievement in Fairfax County could decline. In past years, the summer has been a time for English language learners to keep making progress and for mainstream students to supplement skill gaps.

This is considered especially important for students still learning English because many lose skills over the long summer break. Summer school has also served as a safe place for children to spend the day while parents work.

While the summer school cuts may not raise ire in higher-achieving schools and wealthier communities, they are a blow to families in struggling schools and low-income families that can't afford expensive day care and tutoring.

But the tough economic times forced Fairfax County to make tough choices.

In fact, when schools superintendent Jack Dale first presented the 2010-11 schools budget to the community, he frankly noted that without additional funding, the system faced negative effects on student achievement, academic excellence, high-caliber teachers, innovative programs, individual student needs [and] FCPS’s reputation.

Schools officials could not say exactly how many students had attended summer school last year, but said that the majority of programs would not operate this summer.

Those that will continue to operate include Extended School Year for special education, which is federally funded; online credit classes for high school graduation; online English language instruction, and programs that pay for themselves through tuition, such as arts and science enrichment.

The English as a Second Language (ESOL) program tapped into federal funding for online language training. Free of charge, middle and high school students can enroll in interactive reading and writing instruction, one hour a day for three weeks in July.

Twenty teachers will guide 350 ESOL students, and assign some homework and outside assignments. However, as some county teachers and parents have noted, not everyone has an Internet connection at home, or even a computer.

A parent liaison with immigrant families said that many parents are upset about the change in summer school.

In years past, ESOL students could attend summer school, which was structured like a regular school day. It was once free of charge, though in the last few years families had to pay some tuition. Just another sign of the budget-stressed times.

How many of you were planning to send your kids to summer school, only to find that the programs have been cut in Fairfax and in other districts? What are your plans now?


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By Valerie Strauss  | May 8, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Fairfax County Public Schools  | Tags:  Fairfax County Public schools, Fairfax budget cuts, Fairfax summer school, summer school, summer school cuts  
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This is a shame for a lot of students, especially English language learners. They'll be in front of a tv all summer, maybe not even going outside to play. Parents are working, they aren't going to read or go to the library. Summer learning loss is going to kick in.

Posted by: chelita | May 8, 2010 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Why is there a summer learning loss? Little League Baseball, and other summer activities, don't complain about a "winter learning loss." No one forgets how to throw or bat during the winter. During the summer, students don't forget the principal's name, where the classrooms are, or how to open their juice or milk during lunch. No one forgets over the how to put on heavy clothes or to be careful walking on snow. Drivers do forget how to drive on snow, apparently, but that just proves my point: They never really learned in the first place.

They only reason there is a summer learning loss is because the schools are teaching things that are never used outside the classroom. Reading could be used, except library budgets are being cut and there is too much emphasis on the mechanics of reading and not enough on the joy of reading. (That's why surveys report students read so infrequently--if it isn't for a class, they don't classify it as reading.)

Find a way for students to need what is taught, and they'll remember it.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 9, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

I am having a real problem with this whole issue of summer school. First, I am forty years old and was raised by a single mother for a portion of my childhood. And, my mother was at work in the summer and she couldn't afford to send me to day camp the whole time, so she left me with worksheets to do while she was at work and they better be done when she got home.

Second, I grew up in the midwest where there was always a fee for summer school. It was never free.

Third, so its a shame that they don't get to go, but just because kids and parents don't have access to a free program gives them license to become couch potatoes. Keep the homework you did over the year and review it over the summer. read the signs on the street. translate the fricking tv guide...good grief! Not everyone who came to this country had access to free summer school. How the heck did they learn english!

This country has become paralyzed by free programs. Even the nuttybuddy Tea Baggers who think they are so against big government spending clutch their medicare and social security. And just so anyone who is reading this is wondering...I am an African-American Democrat. But I truly feel that imagination takes you a long way.

Posted by: trying2bbetter | May 9, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

I understand the concept of additional classroom time for ESOL students and students who need help to meet grade standards. I do not think I need to subsidize students whose parents are using summer school as day care. If it is not need based charge the prevailing fee and make it a profit center. There is nothing wrong with the schools showing a profit in some areas.

Posted by: JDD1 | May 10, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

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