School District Forced to Scale Back Summer School

Two weeks ago, Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman urged City Council to give $21 million to the school district’s Summer Learning And More (SLAM) program, a summer school for failing students that doubles as a summer camp for kids interested in art, music or sports.

But last week, when Council voted on how much the district would get this year, SLAM’s funding was cut by $5 million, down to $18 million. Some council members, including Bill Green and James F. Kenney, said they refused to fund SLAM because they considered it an “extra.”

“[The school district] wasn’t able to demonstrate from the data they provided that the program was efficacious,” Green says. “It’s not a question of ‘Hey, if we have extra money should we have a summer SLAM program. It’s a question of, when you have to choose between that and a bus service, even the parents of the summer SLAM kids are gonna choose the bus service. Governing is choosing between competing ideas for a cut of limited resources.”

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Teachers Union, isn’t happy to see the program go. “There is a body of research that indicates that, [when] children are out of school during the summer, there is a slide in the level of knowledge that students retain,” he says.

Ackerman’s camp agrees. “Summer SLAM is a program Arlene Ackerman started and it’s something she feels very passionate about,” Philadelphia School District Spokesperson Sheena Kemp says. “As we’ve just announced a couple days ago, we’ve had nine straight years of gains. We have to do all we can to maintain those gains. Summer SLAM helps to do that.”

But to deal with the cuts, the district has had to reduce the length of the summer program from 21 days to 18 and also reduce the number of students enrolled from 39,000 to 30,000. Currently, 28,000 students have already registered for the program, which runs July 5-23, Philadelphia School District Spokesman Elizabeth Childs says.

The district hopes that the number of students who failed a course and need make-up credits will be fewer than 2,000. “Though we expect to serve all students who wish to participate, in the event there is a significant number of students who need summer classes to remain on track to graduate, those students would receive preference,” Childs says.

But TaiMarie Adams, education policy director for nonprofit advocacy group Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, is worried about the damage rolling back enrichment programs might cause. “Summer programs raise student achievement, and we know that students who participate in these programs do better over the following school year.” She says the state surplus could be used to help public schools save programs like SLAM.

According to the Inquirer, a deal was struck in the state legislature that would put $269 million of that surplus toward public schools, $22 million of which will go to Philadelphia.

Even so, Childs says the district is forced to put basics before summer enrichment. “Our priorities are for restoring transportation, reduced class size initiatives, early childhood education and alternative schools.”

3 Responses to “ School District Forced to Scale Back Summer School ”

  1. John Kenedy says:

    It’s ALL a farce– a financially mean political game being foisted on the poor. What else is new??

  2. teacherslead says:

    @John – I beg to differ. First of all, let’s look at the lack of demand for the program. Classes began on Monday – the district had to “cut back” to 30,000 slots – yet to date only 28,000 have applied to attend. The only shocking piece of information here is that the district cut back to 18 days – and a student who has failed this class, let’s say English 3, for having failed to attend 120 out of 180 days of the school year and turned in no work, passed no tests, written no papers, will be allowed to attend 18 days, pass a very selective and “taught to” test, perhaps write a brief sample essay, and receive credit for English 3 so that they are “on track to graduate.” Additionally, I believe at 18 days, a student can miss NO class and still receive credit according to the state guidelines – minimal though they are – for required face-to-face time. Which means many of the students who are forced here for credit recovery will not attain that goal — remember they are only one missed Septa bus away from failure.
    I almost choked at the report that the number of students who failed a course and need to make up credit is only about 2000. Understand – that means only 2000 students signed up for a summer school make-up class. Summer school is not required. There are far more students who failed and need make-up credit, but we have taught them well and they know the system. We will give them additional – expensive – opportunities throughout the year to make-up these credits and if they can’t get up on Saturday and make those classes, we will find a way to fund “accelerated” programs so that they can graduate in a timely manner – which means within the six-year reporting window.

    The only farce taking place here is that Philadelphia continues to pass students for compliance, not competency. And yes, I suppose that is a mean political game being foisted on the poor – we will give you a diploma and pretend that it has meaning behind it. This is lying and cheating the students of this city who deserve much more. Low expectations are a form of discrimination and abuse. More matters here than whether or not our students graduate – especially if the diploma is a hollow accomplishment.

    I commend a council member who understands that “governing is choosing between competing ideas for a cut of limited resources.” We need to start using these resources wisely and stop acting as though they are unlimited. Part of that wisdom is to continue funding absolutely necessary programs for the students and families who are doing what they are supposed to do: go to school every day and do the hard work that is school. If that means that we limit some of the smorgasbord we have created in order to get OUR numbers to improve – well, so be it. This is NOT about us. This is about producing competent citizens who are prepared for adult life: the responsibilities of living independently, making good decisions, taking advantage of post-secondary education, and being gainfully employed. That is not wholly reflected in “proficiency” on a bubble test or obtaining a hollow diploma.

    If we, as a society, believe that year-round school is needed, we should address that as a different problem, not fund it as a VERY expensive program that provides a fun occupation for a few hours a day for a small population. Students who are identified as requiring extended school year in order to retain learning are identified through special education processes and receive those extended classes through different funding sources. In a time when resources are scarce, SLAM is an unnecessary expense. Ms. Adams states that we know “students who participate in these programs do better over the following school year.” Do we know why? Did those same students do “better” over the previous school year? Are there other factors at play in this equation? For instance, does the fact that you have a parent who wants their student in an enrichment program during the summer have an effect on how that student does in school and whether or not there is someone at home monitoring their school attendance, homework, progress? It is not that simple and we need to stop isolating statistics and using them to guide our decision making.

    Good, solid instruction, given to students who are working in a safe, secure environment is the only thing that will ultimately change our “numbers.” We need to focus on the BASICS and fund them well.

  3. nybyggeri says:

    Very interesting details you have remarked, thankyou for putting up. „The biggest fool may come out with a bit of sense when you least expect it.” by Eden Phillpotts.

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