Summer school as we’ve traditionally known it hasn’t worked well for a long time, especially from an equity standpoint, but we all know that change tends to come slowly to educational institutions. I would submit that in 2022, after two years of extraordinary learning loss, a transformation shouldn’t wait any longer.
Today’s students have different summer learning needs, and we have better tools and methods to teach them. It’s time to start using them.
The old model of summer classes in school buildings every day from 9 a.m. to noon stopped being convenient decades ago, when stay-at-home parenting stopped being the norm. Even if families manage to find transportation for their kids to and from school at those hours, there remains the question of filling in the remaining hours with part-time child care — never a cost-effective option even when it is available.
Traditional summer school doesn’t work that well on the provider’s end, either. Teachers are exhausted from the stresses of hybrid instruction and contentious, ever-changing health rules, making summer-school staffing more of a challenge than ever.
But the need is urgent and supplemental instruction in the summer needs to be more effective than it ever has been. An analysis by the consulting firm McKinsey found that at the end of the 2020-21 school year, elementary-aged students were months behind where students of like age had been before the pandemic — an average of four months further behind in reading and five months in math.
Within those averages, stubborn achievement gaps between racial and income groups have expanded, meaning the children who are least able to access traditional summer school are the ones who need it most.
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