More Students Forced to Take Summer School

July 6, 2000 -- Forget the lazy days of summer.

For an increasing number of students across the country, reading and math are replacing swimming and video games as more children and teenagers are being told they have to go to summer school in order to pass to the next grade level.

New York is expecting 32 percent of all its public school students to attend its summer classes that started this week and in Chicago, 46 percent will be enrolled in school.

The summer school trend comes at a time when many school districts throughout the nation have moved to end what is known as social promotion. This is the practice of promoting students to the next grade so they move through the school system at the same rate as their peers.

“The increase in summer school programs and the end of social promotion are highly related,” said Prof. Michael Kirst of the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research. “All kids are putting in more school hours. That is a significant trend.”

Kirst said summer school presents a clear advantage for students who need special attention because classes are smaller and in many locales students work on a single, clear goal: passing standardized tests.

But while summer school offers a boost for students falling behind, some school districts said they fear they are short-changing eager students, who view summer school as a way to get ahead.

A Growing Trend

In New York, the nation’s largest school district, 319,000 students, or 32 percent, of the city’s 1.1 million students are registered to attend school this summer.

Last year, the school district had 228,000 students enrolled.

School administrators say this is in part due to the programs to end social promotion implemented this year. Of the more than 300,000 students enrolled in school 65,076 — or less than 10 percent — of them are required to do so, officials say.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called the summer-school push “an attempt to try to turn the system into one with much, much higher standards.” “It won’t be easy, but I think the chancellor [of education] and the Board of Education are moving in the right direction.”

In Chicago, reform began four years ago, when Mayor Richard Daley ordered a shake-out of the school system.

Of Chicago’s 431,000 public school students, 200,000 — or 46 percent — are enrolled in classes this summer.

That is double the number of students who went to summer school in 1996, according to school district spokesman Keith Bromery.

A Wake-Up Call In Boston, 11,000 students in grades 2-3 and 5-9 are attending mandatory classes as part of a new promotion policy that requires students to pass English and math before moving on to the next grade level.

Last year, 4,101 students in grades 2 and 5-8 went to school during the summer.

Brenda Richardson, the summer school coordinator for the Trotter School in inner-city Boston, said this remedial program is a wake-up call to many parents.

“Some parents haven’t put the emphasis on education that they should. In these five weeks hopefully we can build the strong relationship with parents so next year [their children] don’t have to come back,” Richardson said.

Summer classes also help students who have fallen behind by providing smaller classes.

Princella Goodrich-Francis, a summer school principal at Fanning Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri, said in her school there are there are only 15 to 20 students per classes, whereas during the school year, there’s up to 35.

She said teachers can do more individual instruction and students get the help they need, and their confidence level rises.

“Initially they say, ‘I don't want to go to summer school,’ but then they see we have fun. It’s not just ‘turn your book to page 72,’” she said. “Kids like it. The ones who came last year will come back and bring a friend.”

One student went to their program all three years, and was her high school class valedictorian, Goodrich-Francis said.

Clara Elam who has been teaching at public schools in St. Louis, Missouri for 44 years, said she has been teaching summer school for four years, ever since the district set up a special program to help lagging students graduate.

“I think this is the best thing they can do,” Elam said.

Turning Students Away But in some districts the trend toward remedial programs may be pushing out eager students who once attended summer school in order to get ahead.

In Boston and other large school districts, school administrators are having to turn some children away.

“This year, summer school is geared to students who haven’t made the grade in standardized testing. There isn’t room for those who want to take their kids, who may have passed the test, but just want a little bit more,” Richardson said.

There is no room because they have too many students in the summer remedial programs. Schools have guaranteed parents they will be able to provide their children with additional instruction during the regular school year.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the country, elementary-level summer classes weren’t even offered until a year ago. Only a fraction of the students who need remedial help are getting it, according to a school spokesman.

“We don’t have enough space. We have a severe overcrowding problem,” said Ed Pardo, spokesman for the Los Angeles school district. “When we looked at last years numbers. We wanted to do it in all grades but we don’t have classrooms to put these kids.”

Of the 50,000 students attending summer school, 14,000 will be second and eighth graders who are attending mandatory remedial classes in math, reading and English.

Last year, the district offered remedial classes for students in grades 2, 3, 5 and 8, but the district was forced to scale back its program this year.

Pardo said students taking enrichment classes, or classes that are offered as additional instruction, were not being short-changed at the expense of those required to attend remedial classes, but more money will have to be budgeted in order to offer classes to every student who needs help.

ABCNEWS.com's Oliver Libaw contributed to this report.