Summertime Blues: Classes Canceled, Restricted

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During the mid-1970's, the Chicago public-school system opened its doors each summer to all students who wished to attend. In the summer of 1975 alone, 200,000 students took the district up on its invitation to participate in a vast array of remedial, academic, and enrichment courses.

This summer, by contrast, 4,000 of the district's 442,000 students will enroll in the secondary-, bilingual-, and special-education programs, while 20,000 others will participate in federally supported reading classes. Only seniors who lacked enough credits to graduate in June are eligible for the scaled-down secondary program.

Chicago's situation is mirrored in virtually all of the biggest and oldest of America's school systems this year, and in many smaller ex-urban systems as well. The mounting financial strains of recent years, worsened by the national recession and federal funding cuts, have forced many districts to trim more and more of their summer activities, particularly enrichment programs, and to focus their efforts on students with particular kinds of academic problems.

Tailoring Summer Activities

In some districts, like Los Angeles and Seattle, that has meant offering bilingual-education programs for fast-growing and academically troubled populations of new immigrants. In districts like New York and Detroit, where minimum-competency testing and exit examinations are used, it has meant tailoring summer activities to bringing failing students up to standard.

And in St. Louis and the District of Columbia, for example, it has meant concentrating on remedial programs that can keep students from experiencing the pain of academic failure--a dropout-prevention strat-egy. "The politics of flunking are such," explains Janice Kromer, a public-information officer for District of Columbia schools, "that there certainly is a danger of not retaining a student" who fails, and that is what the District's summer courses attempt to prevent.

But with the dramatic exception of Dade County, Fla., which will run a $2-million program for more than half of its students--with substantial support from the state--the school-district summer programs are continuing to shrink; only a tiny fraction of their students on average will participate, despite the fact that summer jobs and public recreation programs may also be scarce.

"We are a shadow of what we used to be," said Thomas A. Maloney, director of infor-mational services for the Chicago district. "Now we can only take care of seniors who are lacking a credit or two toward graduation. We are operating the schools on a spartan budget, just trying to fulfill state accreditation requirements and to get the basic educational requirements across. Our major concern is trying to open schools this fall."

Seniors-Only Policy

A similiar seniors-only policy applies in Philadelphia, a district of 214,000 students that is keeping one high school open this summer to serve students who did not graduate. Of 12,000 seniors, several hundred enrolled in summer school last year, and the same number is expected this summer, said Elliott Alexander, a school-district spokesman, who added that the district hasn't run a comprehensive summer program "for six or seven years."

At least two major school systems--Los Angeles and the District of Columbia--briefly cancelled their summer programs (the District's secondary program was suspended last year) only to revive them in a truncated form.

And as many as two-thirds of Minnesota's 426 school districts have cancelled their summer programs this year, estimated one school administrator there.

The announcements of closings by various districts came soon after the state legislature voted in January to eliminate all state aid for summer-school programs. Later, Minnesota legislators, under pressure from parents and special-interest groups, passed a bill allowing districts to hold special levies to fund summer sessions.

In the interim, confusion developed in some school systems, such as Minneapolis, where the board of education first decided to cancel the summer session and then, with community support, voted in May to reinstate it.

"We had one month to organize the program and advertise it," said Fred J. Sheridan, the Minneapolis north area superintendent. "Last year, we had 15,000 students enrolled, but this summer we should have about 10,000 because many parents and students made other plans when they thought the program had been dropped."

Impact of Budget Cuts

"The biggest impact on summer-school programs has been the budget cuts, especially in states that have tax-limitation measures, like Massachusetts and California," said Lew Armistead, director of public information for the National Association of Secondary School Principals. ''Enrichment programs have been dropped, and the focus has turned to remedial programs. There is a general feeling that summer sessions should be teaching subjects kids need to get their diplomas."

When school officials are under pressure to reduce budgets, among the first programs to be dropped or sharply reduced are summer sessions, said Chrissie Bamber, editor of Network, a publication of the National Committee for Citizens in Education. "There is a tendency for schools to say to parents 'if you want this, then you'll pay for it."'

And pay many parents do, in districts such as Detroit, Louisville, Memphis, and Seattle, as schools turn increasingly to tuition fees in order to run self-sustaining programs. In general, districts are more likely to charge student fees for enrichment activities such as computer-use courses, fine-arts classes, and summer band programs. The one exception to this pay-if-you-go rule is for remedial programs in states that require students to pass minimum-competency tests before they can be promoted or graduated; some districts also extend this exception to secondary-school students who have failed core requirements.

On the other hand, a number of large urban districts--Boston, Chicago, the District of Columbia, and Pittsburgh, for instance--continue to provide their summer session free of charge.

Alternative Solutions

Still other communities, such as Minneapolis, have tried to devise alternative solutions to the problem of cutbacks.

When state funds were withdrawn this winter and the Minneapolis board informed the district's 39,000 students that there would be no summer session, the community reacted almost immediately. The city, the school board, the corporate sector, and community groups rallied to the cause and came up with $850,000 for summer programs.

In nearby Edina, the school district is running an enrichment program for both elementary and secondary students. Edina schools have formed a partnership with the neighboring school district of St. Louis Park, through which students who want to take enrichment classes attend Edina schools, while the 9th through 12th graders who want or need to take academic courses for credit attend St. Louis Park programs.

In some communities, parents and teachers have taken responsibility for summer school. Rancho Santa Fe near San Diego, for example, has an elementary program run totally by the pta with 14 to 16 paid teachers and 100 volunteers from the community.

In the Lincoln and Lodi school districts, also in California, a group of teachers have started their own "private" summer school for elementary students. The teachers' group, Learning Associates of San Joaquin County, may open another such school in Lodi if the demand continues to grow. The districts have shown their support of the venture by offering a building for the summer program's use and by approving the participation of regular school-board members on the board of Learning Associates.

Vol. 01, Issue 39

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