I talked to a whole lot of folks to try to understand how summer school works — and how it might work better. Here are some more perspectives that didn’t make it into my article today:
University City High English teacher John Middleton: Strict rules that can get kids kicked out for poor attendance during summer school aren’t the best idea, he said. “It works against kids who are poorer and have higher family obligations. Maybe we should revisit the criteria (for dropping a student from summer school) and say, ‘If you fell short by one or two days, let’s give you some make-up time.’”
School board member Katherine Nakamura: “I believe in making summer school interesting for the kids. They should learn that education can be fun,” she said. Years ago, Nakamura wanted to study the effectiveness of summer classes at different schools, but said she couldn’t get district staff to run the reports to compare how well the different schools were working. She also worried that summer school doesn’t necessarily attract the best teachers: “It’s frequently teachers who need the cash who are teaching, not necessarily the best teachers for these students.”
Paula Cordeiro, dean of an educational leadership school at the University of San Diego: She said the low turnout for summer school may be tied to transportation, even if a kid is going to their neighborhood school. “We underestimate the importance of that.”
Cordeiro also stressed that summer school needs to be targeted at kids’ specific needs to be effective. She believes peer tutoring and other strategies that give students one-on-one attention are best. Minus those added benefits for kids, “if teachers are just walking into a summer class with 25 kids who don’t want to be there, we’re asking a lot of them” to turn grades around.
Clairemont High English teacher Gary Jimenez: He told me an interesting story that underscores how much teachers juggle. He panicked one year at summer school when he was given a single class that spanned from ninth to twelfth grade. “I thought it was going to be a mess,” Jimenez said. “Then I realized that there’s always such a disparity in kids’ levels in my classes — this is what I do every day.”
Jimenez wasn’t excited about loosening the strict rules on attendance. “The kids will miss as much as we let them,” he said.
Joe Austin, principal of the School of Business at San Diego High: He said he’d prefer a longer school year where help for struggling students was built in. Trying to reel in kids during the summer is much harder — especially if they need summer jobs to help make ends meet.
For instance, Austin found that when his school got funding to help pay students who took summer internships, they were much more likely to take the opportunity over cutting lawns or scooping ice cream. Unpaid summer school? Not so much.
Interim Deputy Superintendent Nellie Meyer: She said the fact that one in three high schoolers who go to summer school don’t improve their grades is disappointing, but may not be very surprising given how little time they have to relearn the subject.
Meyer was also uneasy about the practice of kicking out students who miss three days of summer school. “It makes more sense to give credit for what they’ve absorbed — rather than time in a seat.”
— EMILY ALPERT