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Charters beat regular schools in summer learning

This Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at Brent Elementary School at 301 North Carolina Ave. SE, the D.C. public schools will hold a chancellor’s forum on how to add useful learning to your child’s summer. Several groups, such as the D.C. Public Library, the University of the District Columbia Science & Engineering Center, and even Madame Tussaud’s, will have booths about their summer programs.

But the District, like other urban districts, will have a summer school that includes only about a fifth of its students. Many people laugh that off: Who in their right mind wants to go to summer school? Give the poor kids a break.

That old-fashioned attitude turns out to be educationally bankrupt. Summer learning loss has been shown to be a likely cause of low achievement in cities such as Washington. Karl L. Alexander of Johns Hopkins University found that by ninth grade, accumulated learning loss for low-income children accounted for two thirds of the achievement gap between them and higher-income children who had summer learning opportunities, such as trips to the library and museums.

A significant but overlooked factor here is that one group of D.C. students — those who attend public charter schools — are far more likely to attend summer school than those in regular public schools.

Nona Mitchell Richardson, spokeswoman for the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said an estimated 9,900 of 28,000 charter students in the city are expected to be in summer school this year, or 35 percent. Among students of regular D.C. public schools, 21 percent (9,429 out of 45,000 students) are enrolling this summer.

The gap is even worse when you consider the way many charters use their summer sessions. Some of the most successful in the District require all students to attend summer school. It is not just a device to remediate slow kids or enrich fast ones: It is part of the learning plan for the entire year. Nationally, charter school students on average do no better than regular school students, but in the District they show more progress, despite being just as disadvantaged as the regular school kids. Charters can raise extra money for such programs, but these days so can regular schools.

Ron Fairchild and Jeff Smink of the Baltimore-based National Summer Learning Association extolled making summer school part of the school year in a commentary in Education Week. That approach, they said, “challenges the value of a traditional, remedial model of summer school, and embraces instead a seamless blend of core academic learning and hands-on enrichment activities.”

Washington area suburban schools also have summer learning opportunities. Loudoun County has a math instruction camp and a middle school technical camp. The Fairfax County elementary school offerings include a Little Authors Workshop and We Do Robotics. Montgomery County has a four-week program for schools with many low-income students. Manassas City has an engineering camp. Falls Church has an array of drama and arts programs. Prince George’s County is paying students at some elementary schools $5 for every book they read, up to $25.

But in most communities, these activities are just for a few. A new survey of 30,000 households by the Afterschool Alliance reveals that three out of four U.S. schoolchildren do not participate in summer learning programs, even though parents of 56 percent of those kids not participating in summer learning would like them to.

It might be time to shed our discomfort with the notion of summer school for all, and see whether it helps our kids, particularly those in districts such as D.C. The people running the Brent Elementary forum Wednesday would like to do much more with the summer than they are able. Check out what they offer. Would it be so bad if every child had a chance to learn in that way, and get a head start on the new school year?

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.
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By Jay Mathews  | June 27, 2010; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  charter school kids get more summer school than regular school kids in DC, make it part of the full year plan, requiring summer school for all, summer learning loss  
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Comments

Provocative column. And so much research. The blogger himself is showing no signs of slowing down.
Now, a challenge to Chancellor Rhee endorsement of a middle schools program, Capital Gains, that was conceived and initially justified by its principal investigator, Roland Fryer, as a culture changer.
Any reason, Chancellor Rhee not to survey a sample of middle schoolers and 9th graders this fall on their summer activities, and discover whether those who were conditioned to pro-academic behaviors through Capital Gains, despite cultural disapproval -- I'm just quoting Fryer -- are more likely to continue in pro-academic behavior during the summer?

Posted by: incredulous | June 27, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

Interesting piece. I think summer school is great for those who need it. I teach at one of those low-income schools in MoCo and ELO (Extended Learning Opportunity) is great for those students who take advantage of it. Others, however, might use the summer for other experiences which will ultimately serve their education as a whole much better. With schools narrowing their curricula so much, students need to experience other activities. We are pushing everyone to go to college yet denying them the opportunity to tryout different things to help them determine what they might want to do with their lives. I know that summer provided my kids with such opportunities and this made a huge difference for them!

Posted by: musiclady | June 28, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Good Morning!

I really get angry when I read articles about DC public school and that Rhee person. It seems that the media never tells the whole story. My mother every year enrolls my nieces and nephews in summer school, whether they have to attend or not. My niece attends the new Walker Jones Elementary on New Jersey Avenue, NW . This year while enrolling her, my mother realize that this new school will not have summer school for it students. I am sure there are Walker Jones student that have to attend summer school, however, they would have to take a bus to do so. I don’t understand why Ms. Rhee person has not allowed DCPS to be open for the neighborhood children to have summer school in their own school instead of having to get the bus to attend a school that is not as equip as their school.

Understand that the neighborhood is predominately lower to moderate income residents. I believe if the residents were gentrified as upper NW and other areas of DC, the Walker Jones School would be open for it neighborhood residents.

Posted by: raylynnwhite | June 28, 2010 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Good Morning!

I really get angry when I read articles about DC public school and that Rhee person. It seems that the media never tells the whole story. My mother every year enrolls my nieces and nephews in summer school, whether they have to attend or not. My niece attends the new Walker Jones Elementary on New Jersey Avenue, NW . This year while enrolling her, my mother realize that this new school will not have summer school for it students. I am sure there are Walker Jones student that have to attend summer school, however, they would have to take a bus to do so. I don’t understand why Ms. Rhee person has not allowed DCPS to be open for the neighborhood children to have summer school in their own school instead of having to get the bus to attend a school that is not as equip as their school.

Understand that the neighborhood is predominately lower to moderate income residents. I believe if the residents were gentrified as upper NW and other areas of DC, the Walker Jones School would be open for it neighborhood residents.

Posted by: raylynnwhite | June 28, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

This is what I posted in the comments to the column itself:

"Jay, are you seriously not aware that summer school programs are being cut everywhere? Because this article's failure to mention it makes me wonder if it's just another "charter schools are waaaaaaaaay better" piece or if you genuinely don't know that summer school has been eliminated. "

Of course, the title of this piece answers the question--it wasn't really about improving outcomes, but just telling us again how rilly rilly great charter schools are.

I'm sure many students in the DC area don't want to go to summer school and don't take it seriously. But that's probably irrelevant, as it's very likely that all summer school except basic remediation has been cut--and basic remediation summer school is usually required.

Either way, that information is so vital that I can't figure any charitable reason for leaving it out. You can't write a summer school article without mentioning funding without looking dangerously out of touch or appearing to be blindly in pursuit of one particular agenda.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | June 28, 2010 10:49 AM | Report abuse

It might be time to shed our discomfort with the notion of summer school for all,...
.................................
It is time for Mr. Mathews to stop his scare tactics.

The majority of public schools in this nation do a good job in public education and do not require summer school for all.

Yes public schools in poverty areas like DC where 56 percent of 4th graders failed the 2009 test in reading would benefit for summer school for all, but Mr. Mathews only hinders in dealing with the problems when he continuously pretends that there is a serious problem in public education in this nation.

Mr. Mathews should start acting as an adult. We already have a problem in this country where limited resources have to spent by public schools that are providing good public education to counter the scare tactics of Mr. Mathews and the politicians.

It is time for Mr. Mathews to actually do do some work and not simply blog with scare tactics and false facts.

Many in this country see teachers as vile for supposedly being lazy and not doing their job because of Mr. Mathews. It is time for Mr. Mathews to stop being lazy and actually do his job in covering the problems in public education instead of writing patently false columns.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 28, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

The problem is that many of these kids have too much time on their hands during the summer, and fill that time with video games and television. The key is to get kids outside, and involved with a nice blend of learning activities.

Check out my tips:
http://preppedandpolished.com/how-to-prevent-the-summer-brain-slide/

Alexis Avila
Founder/President
Prepped & Polished

Posted by: preppedandpolished | June 28, 2010 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Summer school for all children based upon the national policies of "teach to the test" and "test them until they drop" to close the achievement gap.

cat C A T
cat C A T
cat C A T

dog D O G
dog D O G
dog D O G

2+2 = 4
2+2 = 4
2+2 = 4

The summer program for all children is a success and there is no longer an achievement gap in public education as a result of so many children that now are under performing since they understand that education is a total waste of time.

We have met the enemy of the "achievement gap" and destroyed it.

God bless Mr. Mathews and our President and political leaders.

Posted by: bsallamack | June 28, 2010 5:13 PM | Report abuse

I appreciate the attention you give to the public schools; I really do. Regardless of how one may feel our public schools, whether they are charter schools or not, I think the big issue is more about the length of the school year than it is about the usefulness of summer school. In California, where I teach sixth grade at a local public elementary school, my district does not have the money to fund a comprehensive summer school program. Consequently, the summer school offering this year has been stripped to the bone. The summer program is primarily focusing on remediation, and is at only two or three schools in my district. This is happening all over the country due to prevailing economic conditions. in fact, due to those same economic realities, in my school district the academic year was shortened by five days, representing a loss of almost 3% of instructional days. When some charter schools require all their students to attend summer session, that essentially extends the school year, so it should come as no surprise that kids in an extended school year environment perform better on certain testing instruments.

Posted by: pqr1951 | June 28, 2010 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Decision, decisions, hey? Whether it's better to have kids in school learning or to have them helping with all the work around the farm during the growing season.

So, does anyone have a good reason why attendance is mandatory for only nine months of the year instead of all twelve? It seems to me that if you're going to force people to do something you ought to have a pretty good reason to *not* force them to do it year round.

Ooops, sorry. This is one of those "emperor's new clothes" things. Carry on.

Posted by: allenm1 | June 29, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

For Cal---I am assuming that the economy, and summer school dollars, will rebound, and was trying to took at what long term factors we should consider in encouraging or even requiring summer school attendance.

for bsallamack--Our suburban schools, as you say, don't need as much help as our urban schools, but when I see on the long term NAEP trend line that math and reading achievement for 17 year olds nationally has not improved significantly in 30 years, I conclude that the burbs could also use some help.

for pqr1951. You are right. We need more money for this stuff. I believe, however, perhaps wrongly, that if we can show marked improvement in achievement from experiments in improving summer school attendance, and other promising reforms, we can get money for them.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | June 29, 2010 12:35 PM | Report abuse

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