Chicago school officials announced last week that the district’s policy on summer school, which is already one of the nation’s toughest, is about to get tougher.
Beginning in June, students in grades 3, 6, and 8 who are not at grade level in reading and arithmetic will be required to attend summer school. Previously, students could score at least one grade below their current level and still avoid mandatory summer programs.
The change will add an estimated 33,000 new students to the summer school rosters, which last year reached about 200,000. It will also raise the cost of the district’s summer programs by $10 million, to a total of about $44 million.
“We’ve been going through the gears: first, second, third gear,” school board President Gery Chico told board members last week. “Now, we will hit fourth gear.”
Leaders of the 434,000-student district, the nation’s third-largest, announced two other initiatives as part of what they billed as a three-pronged program aimed at raising student achievement.
Some 200 of the lowest- achieving elementary schools will be required to pick their curricula from five or six models to be selected by the district. Options being studied for use beginning next fall include programs that use “scripted” lessons, such as the Direct Instruction approach, as well as the less prescriptive Everyday Math. The schools will receive additional teacher training and textbook money, as well as closer monitoring.
In addition, incoming high school freshmen will be evaluated in reading and arithmetic. Those who need additional instruction will receive double periods of English/language arts and algebra. Special support will continue in the sophomore year if necessary.
“This plan is seamless, as all students will be given ongoing support from kindergarten until high school graduation,” concludes an overview of the initiative.
Meanwhile, a new body of research on the Chicago schools by the Consortium on Chicago School Research and the Chicago Annenberg Research Project could raise some red flags about requiring schools to choose from a set menu of curricula.
The researchers found that students show the strongest gains when teachers guide them through coursework in a hands-on, interactive way, rather than when the students are lectured to or taught with other highly didactic techniques.
In at least two of the curriculum models being studied by the district, teachers could be bound to scripted lesson plans that leave little room for innovation.
“The biggest effects we found are associated with engaging students with intellectually challenging tasks, ... not having them memorize discrete facts,” said Anthony S. Bryk, a professor of urban education at the University of Chicago who worked on the studies.
At the same time, however, the research concluded that students do better when schools focus instruction so that it is coherent and clear. Students do not do as well, they found, when schools use loosely coordinated approaches.
Chicago could do students in struggling schools a favor by requiring their schools to pick and use specific curricula, rather than allowing instructional practices to grow haphazardly, Mr. Bryk said.
“Having a common instructional framework is important to coherence, ... that is, you have an agreed-upon way of delivering curriculum in school,” Mr. Bryk said. “But curriculum right out of a box will not drive improvement. A lot will have to do with whether teachers buy in to it and are supported.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2001 edition of Education Week as Chicago To Add Thousands More To Summer Rosters