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What to Look for in a Summer Learning Program

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By GreatSchools Staff

Choosing a Summer Learning Program

Which is better - remedial or enrichment, voluntary or mandatory?

Many school districts are now requiring mandatory summer school, particularly for students who fail state standardized tests. There is significant debate, however, among education researchers as to the long-term benefit for students of mandatory programs. Students may gain a few points on the state tests, but they may not carry that benefit forward in future years.

Most educators agree that innovative approaches are needed to prepare students to raise their achievement levels on state tests. "Summer school can't be the same old summer school. The extra support during the school year can't be what didn't work the first time around," said Thomas Payzant, superintendent of the Boston public schools, in a report produced by the Council of Chief State School Officers entitled Summer Learning Opportunities in High-Poverty Schools. The report profiled five high-poverty schools that had special programs (including summer learning programs) that contributed to improving student achievement. Successful programs were academically focused and included enrichment activities that gave students the opportunity to practice the skills they had learned in school. Providing a safe, structured environment also served the needs of working parents for quality childcare.

Questions to Ask

Because of financial constraints, many school districts only offer remedial programs to elementary and middle school students who have not achieved at high enough levels on state tests. Some districts do, however, offer both remedial and enrichment programs. Check with your district, and local community college, as well as private programs, to find out what is available in your community.

"I think parents should look for small class size in summer school programs whether they are enrichment or remediation," says Linda Eisinger, Missouri's Teacher of the Year in 2005 and currently a third-grade teacher at West Elementary School in Jefferson City, Missouri. "Also, check the qualifications of the teacher. Was there a lot of competition for the summer school jobs? Often summer school falls to teachers who really don't want to be there, do little preparation, and just see it as a paycheck to go on vacation. We often have fierce competition for our jobs in my district so therefore the best are hired. You want teachers who will follow a curriculum and state standards just as they would during a school year. Enrichment should also meet a standard and not just be some 'fun' theme unit."

When checking out summer programs for your child, here are some questions to ask:

  • How many students will be in the class?
  • Will my child receive individual attention?
  • Will the curriculum be the same as that taught during the school year or will it be different?
  • Who are the teachers and what are their credentials? Is the hiring process competitive?
  • Will my child have opportunities to practice reading, writing, math and spelling?
  • Will the summer school curriculum follow the state standards?
  • Is attendance mandatory?
  • How will my child be evaluated?
  • Are there opportunities for parent involvement?
  • If we are planning a family trip during summer school, is it permissible for my child to be absent for a few days?

Comments from readers

"i am 13 year old. i am from Georgia.also i like literature and writing."
"i want to get in your summer school.i want to learn profession ,which i have chosen.i am interested in natural sciences.i am learning English now."
"what year was this article written?"
"Good overview article, but when I tried to access the '2007 study' it wouldn't come up. Can you send me the full reference? Thanks."
"We are looking for a literature/writing based summer school for high schooler. Do you have a list of available programs or perhaps give us a web site to find availble ones?"