Is More School the Answer? (page 2)

Is More School the Answer?

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Updated on Oct 5, 2009

But, as well as the Massachusetts program is doing, Considine says there are schools on the waiting list for grant money that won’t get it this year. At a cost of $1,300 per student, it’s not a venture to be taken lightly, especially for poorer states just trying to keep schools open the traditional six hours a day, 180 days a year.

“Given the cost of this type of reform, and the current fiscal environment, I would not expect many districts, states or the federal government to be making large investments in extending time in the near future (especially with one-time stimulus funds),” says Rob Manwaring, a senior policy analyst from Education Sector, an independent education policy think tank.

Instead of using one-time stimulus funds to dramatically reshift the academic schedule—a risky and expensive business—many districts are focusing on tried and tested ways to keep kids learning: after-school and summer programs.

Summer Learning

Summer school. The very words conjure up images of stuffy classrooms filled with kids who—for reasons of misbehavior, absenteeism or academic challenges–have to make up for what they missed during the regular school year. Are summer schools really the remedial half-way houses that many think they are, and, better yet, should they be?

No to both counts, according to Brenda McLaughlin at the National Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins. She says that summer programs should “recognize what parents and kids want and expect from summer. They want the summer months to be different from school.”

It’s true that most summer school programs are designed for a specific type of kid—usually from low-income or poor-performing schools. But, the goal of most programs is less about remediation and more about creating equal learning opportunities in an effort to close the achievement gap.

Research has shown that kids from middle class families have more opportunities to learn over the summer, through summer camps and family travel, than peers in low-income households. In fact, data from the Beginning School Study, where researchers studied summer learning loss in 800 kids in Baltimore schools, shows that by the end of fifth grade, lower-income children are more than 2 ½ years behind their peers in reading because of summer losses.

McLaughlin says when learning programs are offered to a focused demographic, it can be both good and bad. “When you’re in an environment where there are scarce resources, you want to target those resources as well as you can, but you also don’t want to set your target group apart. We want to make sure it’s a program all kids want to go to,” she says.

The most successful types of programs, says McLaughlin, are those that blend academic curriculum with hands-on enrichment activities. “They aren’t like traditional classrooms where everyone’s desk is facing the board. We are trying to shift the paradigm where kids are gaining valuable math skills while moving around and doing activities,” she said.

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