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Last year I wrote about how San Diego Unified was at risk of cutting back on summer school, weakening an already limited lifeline for kids who slide behind.

The school board ultimately voted to keep the program intact last year. But now summer school is on the chopping block again. Money earmarked for summer school went to plug budget holes; stimulus money that helped pay for summer school last year dried up.

Providing summer classes for students at risk of being held back in first, third and eighth grade, and all high schoolers who need to make up credits would cost $2.6 million. San Diego Unified has only $1.14 million to spend, so district staff recommends paring back on summer school for high schoolers short of their senior year.

That would mean that only an estimated 170 high schoolers would have a shot at summer school, compared to more than 5,800 high school students who took it last year. Here’s what I wrote last year about the risks of cutting summer school for teens:

Roughly 12 percent of high schoolers relied on summer school to boost their grades last year. Freshmen in summer school saw the biggest gains, upping their average grades by half a letter grade. That’s the difference between a D+ average and a C; the difference between staying on track to graduate or not.

Summer school isn’t perfect. It’s underused and inconsistent even when budgets are flush. Last year, our analysis found that the neediest kids are unlikely to enroll and become less and less likely to go every year. Summer jobs and family demands pull many failing students away. One in three students who went to summer school didn’t improve their grades at all, we found:

But unless San Diego Unified comes up with a similar plan to offset the lost chance to turn things around for teens, trimming summer school may only exacerbate some of its existing weaknesses. It will only reach seniors at the last minute, instead of helping troubled freshmen set their report cards right. Delaying chances to make up classes for failing high schoolers will hurt kids who are already the most likely to drop out — and who need help fast to turn things around.

Studies from Chicago have found that freshman year failure is an extremely accurate predictor of whether a child will drop out, but if a student makes up classes by sophomore year, their odds of graduating improve. Cutting summer school gives failing freshman one less option. … And while San Diego Unified may still offer summer school to struggling seniors, a single summer usually can’t bail out kids with extremely low grades. Three out of four high schoolers with a D average who went to summer school last year left with their grades still at or below a D average and well below the C average needed to get a diploma.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the plan on Tuesday.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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