Summer Blues

May 22, 2003, midnight | By Izaak Orlansky | 18 years, 12 months ago

Mention summer school, and one will often get a laugh. That's because summer school has become a joke for students and teachers alike. Students do not care because they're earning a credit, and teachers do not care because they are not being evaluated.

Over 400 Blazers, more than 10 percent of Blair, attend summer school where they are victims of time constraints and lowered standards. Most students have either failed or lost credit in the class already; summer school standards are compromised as a result. Since the majority of summer school students received failing grades, a C or a D earned in summer school may become a B, says Laura McCullough, who taught English 9 at Blair last summer. In addition, cramming a semester-long class into a three-week session forces teachers to sacrifice concept mastery in order to complete the curriculum. "Summer school is not enrichment. Summer school is the bare basics," explains Leslie Van, a Blair science teacher and 2002 summer school teacher. But even with the basics, problems arise. No student can listen to five-hour lectures, so videos are used and often overused to maintain focus, according to many summer school teachers.

In addition, Allan Eisel, MCPS coordinator of summer school, says hiring teachers for summer school is like running a business when someone else controls the supply and demand. He has no cap on student enrollment (demand) and only a limited pool of effective teachers (supply). "Somebody's got the idea there are teachers lined up in the hallway for summer school, and that is simply not the fact," he says. Without enough teachers to meet the enrollment need, Eisel must turn to what he calls "non-traditional teachers," including retired, substitute or open-contract employees. Additionally, MCPS does not evaluate any teachers during summer school, according to Eisel.

Despite all its problems, summer school may not be a complete loss. Students do take exams and, according to most teachers, perform better than they did previously. They have put in time and money ($235 or $50-$85 for Free And Reduced Meal Students) and have a strong desire to pass the class, particularly if it is necessary for graduation. Eisel says there is "no better feeling" than watching students receive their diploma after completing summer school.

But there is so much more to offer these students. Allowing students to squeak by on the bare minimum does not mean they will not be failing and returning next year.

In order to make summer school effective, MCPS must cap classes and increase summer school teacher salaries. Teachers should be given a rigid planning schedule, that includes required activities, homework assignments and tests for students. To ensure teachers stick to the curriculum and teach effectively, MCPS also needs a concrete evaluation process. Teachers, in turn, must be willing to fail their students and not lower the standards at the cost of learning.

Summer school is not a laughing matter; MCPS should stop treating it like one.

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Izaak Orlansky. Izaak Orlansky is a senior in the Communications Arts Program. His hobbies include cross-country running, swimming, and singing in the spring musical. Izaak is also a big fan of the Yankees, and likes playing with big fluffy dogs. More »

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