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Summer School Reform

How do you improve the quality of summer schools and make them more cost-effective, the New York Times asks seven education leaders, in a discussion posted online yesterday.

It's about time and structure. To Kathleen Porter-Magee, director of the High Quality Standards Project; Pedro Noguera, professor of education at New York University; and Paul Thomas, education professor at Furman University; the answer lies in changing the school calendar, particularly with reducing what they consider to be the overly long block of time constituting summer vacation, which research has shown can significantly hinder academic gains made during the school year. While Porter-Magee and Thomas both suggest breaking summer vacation into smaller increments scattered throughout the year, Noguera advocates the expanded learning-time model, or longer days and school year.

It's about programming. Roger Prosise, the superintendent of a suburban Chicago district, says it's about using a more "progressive" approach to learning outside the classroom, such as more field trips and project-based learning, particularly for those students who typically wouldn't have access to such experiences. Patrick Welsh, a teacher in Alexandria, Va., says its about focusing on improving the skills of those who are really behind, not those who just didn't perform well the past year.

It's about capacity building. According to Lucy Friedman, president of TASC, schools need to look to building capacity through partnerships with community organizations that can help enhance program offerings and allow programs to increase in size and scope.

It's not about cuts. Cutting summer school won't really ameliorate significant budget shortfalls, writes Geoffrey Canada, president of the Harlem Children's Zone, but will have disastrous effects on underprivileged kids.

"We must not make decisions that save money in the short term, but leave our country unable to prepare for a more competitive future," Canada writes. "So while we must make tough decisions to balance our budgets, are we making smart ones?"

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