It’s about time

When do students for whom English is a second language, and those in poverty, make the most gains in their academic achievement?

How about those students for whom English is their first language and who come from homes that are not in poverty, and for whom education is very important?

The answer to the first question is during school time. Seems like a no- brainer. The answer to the second question, on the surface, is also during school time (looking at the 9 months of school vs. the two and a half to three months of summer as being equal, and not comparing growth per month).

Now here is another easy question….when do students from our first question lose the most in regards to how they perform on academic achievement measures? The asnwer lies in the good old summertime.

When we were in Iraq, we soon learned when we would likely be hit with mortar and/or rocket attacks: when the apache helicopters were not up in the air. If I was a potential mortar lobber that had an interest in seeing tomorrow, I too would not dream of dropping rounds down the tube while a machine capable of finding and destroying me was no more than 2 to 3 minutes away (max!). As we had trouble keeping the choppers in the air 24/7, there was always an opportunity for some excitement. As having mortars lobbed at one could be construed as counter-productive to one’s aims, we will say that they were counterproductive to our goals.

If the goal of public schooling is to increase academic achievement, then an enemy of that goal is ignorance, or a loss of academic achievement. In effect, most districts allow for the “mortars of ignorance” to reign down upon our ESL and poverty students all summer. These same students tend to make similar growth during the school year as their wealthier and english speaking peers, but every summer break they regress as a group, going backwards, while their peers tend to make big leaps.

I know that the thought of kids spending three to four hours a day Monday through Thursday during the summer seems so evil to us. They should be out playing baseball, and riding their bikes to town to grab a soda, where the local merchants from the corner grocery will ask them about their family. Then Andy Griffith will drive by, and everything will be just peachey…

More likely than not, kids from poverty are not getting outside much if at al during the summer. They are glued to their television, or xbox, as are many of their wealthier peers. One potential difference is that the wealthier peers might be pried away on occassion by parents to go to the coast, the zoo, the science museum, etc. These all take money, and time, which are two luxuries that many poverty parents do not have. Somehow it seems a bit less evil to invite kids to summer school when we suspend our own memories of summer life (I spent a fair bit of time in front of the tv myself) and think about the long term consequence of the kids falling further and further behind, with predictable result.

With the current mania over test scores, has there been reseaerch done on the most effective use of a dollar if all spending and programs in K12 remain the same? I would wager that summer school for ESL and poverty students would be about the best investment one could make, if we truly wanted to help them succeed. If districts are unable to provide for this (due to financial reasons, driven by class size constraints – you cannot have class sizes of 40-1 during the year in elementary), then it would seem to be in their best interest to seek ways to secure that funding. If they could restructure their budgets and really tighten their regular school time belts, imagine the impact of having most of thei poverty and ESL students suddenly achieving on par with their peers!

We need more Apache helicopters up in the air for our kids. If we do not have them, we need to make an alliance with somebody who does.  To think that we can take all kids as they arrive and turn them into high achievers given the same amount of time for each student is pure fantasy.


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