Economic Slump Slows Down Summer Schools

The economic downturn has prompted many school districts to reduce funds for summer school. That's bad news for students who need remedial work and for those who are taking summer classes to advance a grade.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. Some struggling students will not have the chance to catch up in summer school this year. The economy is taking its toll on public school districts, and some are trying to save money by cutting summer school.

NPR's Adam Hochberg reports.

ADAM HOCHBERG: This year Tiedra Brown(ph) will have a more restful summer than she's used to, but she's not all that happy about it.

Ms. TIEDRA BROWN: Get your folders and get your calculators. Everybody here today? Anybody out?

HOCHBERG: Brown teaches middle school math in Kinston, North Carolina, a town of about 20,000 people in an economically struggling part of the state. For the past six years Brown has spent her summers teaching, too - remedial classes for students who need extra work to move on to the next grade level. But this year she won't have the opportunity.

Ms. BROWN: We just found out a couple of weeks ago that there's definitely not any summer school because of the budget, no funds for summer school.

HOCHBERG: That means Brown will lose about $1,500 in extra salary, but she says she's more concerned about the students who need the classes.

Ms. BROWN: Summer school benefited them because it was a smaller class size, and you can get more one-on-one time with them during summer school. It gave them opportunity to ask more questions and be more involved in the class because maybe they got left behind the other students during the school year.

HOCHBERG: More than 100 students enrolled in summer school last year in this county. Most needed remedial work because they failed a class or an end-of-grade test. Others were high school seniors who had to retake one class to graduate. Lenoir County Superintendent Terry Cline says he's not happy about cancelling the program, but he blames funding cuts from his state and county governments that left him without the $375,000 he needs to keep summer school going.

Mr. TERRY CLINE (Superintendent, Lenoir County Public Schools): You try your best not to impact the classroom, but the way the cuts are going, we're not having a choice now. It is going to impact children, and that's hard. It's very difficult, but we don't have the funding to do it, we just don't.

HOCHBERG: Many superintendents are facing the same issue. In North Carolina alone, more than a dozen school systems have eliminated or cut back summer school. So have school districts in such places as Durango, Colorado; Concord, California; and several suburbs of Indianapolis. Duke University Professor Harris Cooper says summer school is relatively easy to cut. Administrators often just have to strike one line item from their budget. But he says school leaders often underestimate its value.

Professor HARRIS COOPER (Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University): We have looked at close to 100 evaluations of summer school programs, and the bottom line is that they do work. And even from a cost basis can be an important cost savings in the long-run if the alternative is holding a kid back in school.

HOCHBERG: A lot of school systems are scrambling now to come up with cheaper alternatives to summer school. Several are allowing students to take online courses. One community in Kansas is training volunteers to teach. And back in Kinston, teachers are trying to make time for remedial lessons before the regular school year ends.

Ms. ERIN HARVEY(ph): We're just going to sit in these three groups here. We're just going to sit (unintelligible).

HOCHBERG: Fifth-grade teacher Erin Harvey has been meeting with students who are in danger of failing and encouraging them to get help now.

Ms. HARVEY: We are taking the initiative to hold Saturday academies, after-school remediation sessions. I know there are a few teachers who are actually opening their doors early. When I get to school at 7:30, there are children waiting for me at 7:30 when the doors don't open until 8, because they know there's no summer school.

HOCHBERG: The superintendent in Kinston says he's trying to find more alternatives for students who need remedial work, perhaps using federal stimulus money, but he notes that summer school is just one of several things he's had to cut. Special education, gifted programs and even cafeteria services are being scaled back, as well. He says his students will feel the effects of the economic slowdown both this summer and beyond.

Adam Hochberg, NPR News.

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