Is there any greater childhood joy than the last day of school, when the summer stretches ahead in a seemingly endless stream of days of freedom, leisure and barefoot delights? Parents and school staff are also usually grateful for the extra sleep and the relief from the day-to-day responsibilities that go along with supporting the education of children.
However, the notion that the summer break is a carefree and joyful period of time, is an idealized and incomplete description. For many families without a full-time homemaker, an 11 or 12-week summer break can mean a stressful hustle to find affordable summer programs and child care. When there are few or no activities to occupy a child it can mean a summer filled with boredom and frustration. Too much unstructured down-time can adversely affect children, leading to regression in the skills and knowledge that support student achievement. In high-poverty communities where children have fewer summer learning opportunities, the loss of skills in mathematics and reading have a greater impact contributing to the achievement gap. The National Summer Learning Association (www.summerlearning.org/) in a summary of research on summer break cites the following:
- Students typically score lower on standardized tests at the end of summer vacation than they do on the same tests at the beginning of the summer.
- Most students lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in mathematical computation skills over the summer months. Low-income students also lose more than two months in reading achievement, despite the fact that their middle-class peers make slight gains.
- More than half of the achievement gap between lower- and higher-income youth can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities.
- Children lose more than academic knowledge over the summer. Most children – particularly children at high risk of obesity – gain weight more rapidly when they are out of school during summer break.
- Parents consistently cite summer as the most difficult time to ensure that their children have productive things to do.
The board of education can play an important role in providing families with positive options and activities for children over the summer months. In schools that have a community demographic that includes at-risk students, an effective summer school program can help keep students engaged and lessen or eliminate the academic regression that contributes to the achievement gap.
Summer School is at the Discretion of the Board The constitutional requirement to provide a free public education is met through the regular school year. The operation of a summer school program is at the discretion of the board. In the past, the focus of many board-operated summer school programs was limited to remedial courses for students who finished the year behind or failing, and educational services to fulfill requirements of individualized educational programs (IEP). As a result, summer school was seen as punitive and stigmatizing and only useful to students in need of special help.
Providing innovative and interesting learning opportunities to all students during the summer break supports an inclusive school environment and promotes student engagement. Expanding the learning opportunities attracts a more diverse student population. This can help reduce the stigma for the students who are assigned to attend. In addition, the board has greater flexibility in the summer. Summer sessions can be used to implement innovative programs and experiment with nontraditional education strategies. Nontraditional educational programs and teaching strategies are the essential components of important state and federal initiatives to ensure student success in secondary education programs and/or the careers of the 21st century, such as iSTEAM (integrative science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics), universal design, digital learning environments and blended learning.
In a position paper, the National Summer Learning Association cites adequate scope and duration, strong partnerships and innovative programing as essential elements of high quality summer learning.
Innovative programming that engages both students and teachers. Quality summer learning programs look and feel different than traditional school year programs by providing a blended approach of academic learning and enrichment activities that include transition programs (e.g., for rising kindergarteners and ninth graders), proficiency-based learning opportunities, college and career awareness, experiential learning (e.g., workplace internships or service-learning), STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education, arts, physical education, and innovative professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators (Statement on Expanded Learning, Federal Policy and 21st Century Community Learning Centers, September 2010).
There are several board of education policy considerations to take into account in operating summer school programs.
Curriculum In creating an innovative, interesting and engaging curriculum, the board may offer courses in three basic categories (N.J.A.C. 6A:32-2.1 Definitions):
- Remedial courses: This would include any course or subject that is a review of a course or subject previously taken for which credits or placement may be awarded upon successful completion of the course.
- Advanced courses: This would be any course or subject not previously taken in an approved school program, for which additional credits or advanced placement may be awarded upon successful completion of the course.
- Enrichment courses: This would include any course or subject of a vocational nature for which no credits are awarded.
While the board and administration have greater flexibility in planning summer school courses, there are requirements that ensure that courses offered for credit are comparable with the staffing and time standards for courses offered during the regular school year.
Teachers in summer school sessions must possess valid certificates for subjects taught while enrichment classes may be taught by resource persons under the supervision of a certified administrator, supervisor, or teacher.
To receive advanced credit for a subject not previously taken, the student must receive class instruction in summer session under standards equal to those during the regular term.
Full-year subjects given for remediation must be conducted for 60 hours of instruction under standards equal to the standards during the regular term or through an established number of curricular activities (such as Option 1, guided projects, etc.) determined by the board. Having the option to establish curricular activities creates the opportunity to offer personalized education planning that targets any specific difficulties the student may be having.
Enrollment Students falling below acceptable levels on the statewide proficiency assessments require remediation. The law requires that the assignment of students be based on the recommendation of the principal and according to board policy. The board is required to adopt policies and procedures addressing remediation. Considerations for policy and administrative regulations include:
- Criteria for the recommendation for placement;
- Program objectives and standards designed to assist students who have academic, social, economic or environmental needs that prevent them from succeeding in regular school programs;
- A process for ensuring communication between teaching staff members and parents/guardians; and
- Measures that may be taken to evaluate pupil achievement related to the remedial program.
If the district’s remedial program is primarily during the summer months, priority may be given to resident students before opening enrollment to nonresidents. Board policies on remediation require the input of parents, teachers and students.
Enrollment in advanced and enrichment courses may be structured by board policy. The board may prioritize district residents for enrollment or open enrollment to any interested student on a first-come first-served basis. In addition, clear public notice and application procedures contribute to a fair process for student enrollment.
Tuition In 2010, legislation was enacted in New Jersey allowing boards to charge tuition to those students able to pay for courses provided during the summer session. This legislation helped offset reductions in state aid that forced many boards to make cuts in programs and services including cutting summer school programs. Full or reduced tuition may be charged to district resident students for remedial and advanced courses that count as credit toward fulfilling the curricular requirements.
Boards operating a summer program offering remedial and advanced courses are required by law to provide these services at a reduced tuition for students living with financial hardship. Tuition reduction is graduated based on the federal poverty guidelines. Tuition reduction increases the likelihood that summer program offerings are accessible to children and families in need of financial assistance.
Full tuition may be charged to resident students for enrichment courses that do not count for credit. Enrichment courses are vocational and must be determined by the executive county superintendent to have no direct relationship to the curriculum.
Full tuition may be charged to any nonresident student for remedial, advanced and enrichment courses at a rate set by the board.
New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) regulations that address structuring tuition for nonresidents in public schools only apply to tuition for the regular school year and not tuition for summer school sessions. Tuition rates during the regular school year must be based on the estimated actual cost per student, the calculation of which is spelled out in the NJDOE regulations. In the absence of state regulations specific to summer school tuition, district policies and procedures should include a justifiable and defensible rationale for the tuition rate the board establishes.
In deciding on summer school tuition rates for nonresidents, districts might want to determine procedures for estimating the actual cost of providing the service for each student; take into account community demographics and the ability of families to meet the tuition; and consider supplemental funding streams, such as community/business partnerships, sponsorships, grants, donations and fundraisers.
The board may also consider measures for supporting the enrollment of at-risk students. Although the tuition reduction based on financial need is required for remedial and advanced courses, it is not required for enrichment courses which are often the most engaging and fun. Developing alternate funding streams may help make enrichment courses more equally accessible to all students.
Is it too much of a stretch to envision that a child on the last day of school might also experience some excitement about the cool summer course he or she will be participating in; and that summer fun includes experiences at school? Having an active and engaging summer program provides positive and affordable options for families and helps reduce skill regression and keep students engaged.
It is an important responsibility of school leaders to support student achievement and ensure that the students of today succeed in the secondary education programs and the careers of tomorrow. Using the flexibility of the summer months as an opportunity to experiment and innovate is one place to start.
NJSBA’s policy staff is available to help with your projects, provide research and supply or develop policy language to meet your needs. For more information and ideas on establishing effective and innovative summer school programs please visit the National Summer Learning Association.