|SCHOOL IN SUMMERTIME|
August 24, 1999
JOANNE CAPALANO: Does anyone here think they're a little bit like Amelia-Bedelia?
MARGARET WARNER: On a recent hot summer school morning, the kids in Joanne Capalano's class at Joseph Lee Elementary School in Boston, worked on their reading.
LITTLE BOY: It didn't say to dry them back in.
JOANNE CAPALANO: Does that make sense to you?
LITTLE BOY: No.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: They also worked on their spelling.
JOANNE CAPALANO: Silly.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And while "silly" may seem like an easy word for second- graders to spell, in Capalano's class it was a challenge, because all her students are behind grade level. Bernadine Murphy is also a teacher at Lee Elementary.
BERNADINE MURPHY, Elementary School Teacher: I tested a girl this morning entering grade three, and she was having difficulty identifying the alphabet. She wasn't able to write the alphabet without singing the song "a-b-c-d." And at that, there were several letters that were missing as well.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Low-achieving students are a big problem for public schools all over the country, so this summer, cities like Boston made them go to summer school in hopes of helping kids catch up. And it wasn't voluntary, like summer school programs of the past. It was mandatory, because a judgment day is coming.
THOMAS PAYZANT, Superintendent, Boston Public Schools: In Massachusetts, we're facing in 2003 requirements that students pass state assessment or they won't get a diploma. That's different.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Dr. Thomas Payzant is Superintendent of the Boston public schools.
THOMAS PAYZANT: You can't do in 180 days, six hours a day, what is needed to give students who often were behind on basic skills and then have to close a larger gap to get to these new higher standards that they're going to have to meet in order to be able to access opportunity.
TEACHER: And the number below the fraction bar, what is this called?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: All over the country, states have adopted education reform programs that will soon require kids to pass achievement tests in order to get a high school diploma. No longer will grades be the primary determining factor.
TEACHER: Four times nine makes?
TEACHER: Very good.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: So helping kids who are functioning below their grade level catch up has become a top priority. Hundreds of school systems are imposing mandatory summer school programs as a way to make that happen. It's spread so quickly that the U.S. Department of Education has been unable to keep up with exactly how many school systems or children were involved this year. But nationwide, it's estimated at least five million kids were required to go. That's about one out of every ten public school students in the country.
STERLING SCOTT: Count your tubes, and make sure you have this number.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: In Boston, summer school classes were kept to ten kids or less. Teachers were given extra training, and special remedial materials were supplied.
STERLING SCOTT: How many do you have?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: All six of the children in Sterling Scott's Boston summer school class were behind.
STERLING SCOTT: How many do you have, Demetrius?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The day we were there, Scott gave the children colored cubes and asked them to arrange the cubes as many different ways as possible to make the number seven.
STERLING SCOTT: Very good.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Only one child was able to do that right away. Others eventually succeeded. But one student never did completely get it. He watched the other kids, and finally he copied what they did to arrive at a solution.
STUDENT: I feel like...
BETTY ANN BOWSER: It was the same when the kids moved into reading groups.
STERLING SCOTT: Was-n't. Can you say that, wasn't?
STERLING SCOTT: Okay.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Still, Scott was undaunted by what was happening in his classroom.
STERLING SCOTT: I see changes in their attitudes towards the work they're doing. I see confidence building as well... as well as the ability to take initiative and do some of the work independently. Are they at level overnight? No, they aren't. However, they are seeing that education is not a baffling process for them. There's a systematic way of going about things.
STERLING SCOTT: (speaking to students) Read together.
STUDENTS: "I still have..."
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The foundation of Boston's summer school program is early intervention, reaching kids like seven-year-old Demetrius Dunston. He faced the prospect of being held back to repeat a grade again if he didn't do well in summer school. Demetrius' older brother Robert also had to go to summer school. But at 15, catching up was harder for him, so their mother, Marilyn Jones, was pleased that Demetrius was getting help so early in school.
MARILYN JONES: At least I got a better perspective of what he needs, and I think he'll be all right. And a lot of kids, though, are just getting passed to the next grade.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: You don't think that makes sense?
MARILYN JONES: No. No, because they get to 12th grade and they haven't learned anything, but because they slipped through the cracks or whatever... you know, they've gotten all the way to the 12th grade, and then when they go to take a test, get ready for college, they don't know anything.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The teachers at this Boston middle school hope falling through the cracks is not what 14-year-old Darrow Patton will continue to do. He was in summer school because he behind in math.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What's different about summer school that's helping you?
DARROW PATTON: Well, it helped me a lot in fractions and division a lot.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Why, because the class is smaller?
DARROW PATTON: Yeah, it's kind of easier because it's not... the class is smaller and it makes it, like, easier to, like, get the teacher's attention.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: For Patton, the smaller classes were a welcome relief from regular school, where he frequently got lost in a class of 30 students. He showed us what he had learned about multiplying numbers with decimals.
DARROW PATTON: I learned that you have to put the zero, then the two, and then the decimal goes over two spaces.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Right, to get that six in the right place? Then they go over right, for the rest? You got it.
DARROW PATTON: The decimal goes here.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Right, but you couldn't have done that before this summer, huh?
DARROW PATTON: No. I couldn't have done none of this.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Okay, go ahead, go ahead.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Across the hall, teacher Joseph Condon was trying to keep his students engaged in a reading project.
STUDENT: So he won't be in trouble by his mother?
JOSEPH CONDON: Right, he didn't want to get in trouble.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Some of these eighth-graders rank in the bottom 10 percent of all Boston public school children on standardized tests.
JOSEPH CONDON: From the story, I've got a few vocabulary words that I'd like you to find the meaning of.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: One girl who had no books or pencil on her desk, sat and stared into space. Others seemed to be equally distracted.
JOSEPH CONDON: Michael, give out those dictionaries, please.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And Condon thought there was little hope, even with smaller classes, that these kids would improve much this summer because they are so far behind.
JOSEPH CONDON: I think they just need so much in support and patience.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Do you find this depressing?
JOSEPH CONDON: (Laughs)
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Or challenging?
JOSEPH CONDON: I suppose a little of both. I mean, it's scary with the grade levels. It would be nice... I mean, the class size here even with this group of ten was difficult, but hopefully some improvement. We gave a reading test the first day, and we're going to give a reading test the last day. I suppose it's unrealistic to expect too much of a gain.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Still, public policy experts say attempts must be made to reach low-performing kids however possible. Bob Schwartz is director of a nonprofit organization that monitors education reform efforts.
BOB SCHWARTZ, Director, Achieve Inc.: The degree of learning decay that takes place over the summer, particularly for low-income kids and kids who aren't doing anything that's education-related in the summer, they actually lose ground. So the question is, to what degree can public policy try to intervene to make use, better use at least, of the summer months, again, not just for poor kids but for kids who for whatever set of reasons haven't been able to learn what we hope they could learn in the normal nine-month school year.
STERLING SCOTT: I'm going to start from page 12.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: When they were tested at the end of summer school, the second-graders in Mr. Scott's class all showed improvement.
STERLING SCOTT: How about you, Demetrius?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Boston school officials will expand their efforts to bring low-performing children up to grade level by providing more remedial help in regular school this fall, and they may require some kids to go to school on Saturdays.