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8th August

First Published in The New York Sun, August 8, 2003

By Andrew Wolf

Summertime, 2004, and the livin’ is real easy for New York City’s failing students. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein can barely disguise his disdain for the city’s suddenly controversial summer school program, which was initiated as part of the effort to end social promotion during the brief alliance between the “Two Rudys,”former Mayor Giuliani and former Chancellor Crew.

These classes are offered to children who failed to meet promotional standards and are being held back. For the most part these are children who scored at “level one” — far below grade level — in either reading, math, or both. They are tutored in small groups, and at the conclusion of the fiveweek session are re-tested. If they pass, they move up to the next grade.It is a last chance for students to win promotion and avoid repeating a grade, or for the high school students, a class failed.
Unlike classes during the regular school year,attendance in summer school programs is not mandated by law. In retrospect, that decision was a mistake. Parents often opt to keep their children out of summer school.In some cases,this is an informed decision made by parents who believe that repeating a grade is appropriate for their child. In other cases, nonattendance is simply a reflection of parental neglect.
Voluntary summer enrichment classes and summer school for children in the early grades have already been eliminated, ostensibly for budgetary reasons.The loss of the early childhood program is particularly unfortunate. Early intervention is everything. Having children in the lower grades repeat a year is generally considered more effective and less traumatic, but nothing is more productive than getting a child to catch up at an early age.

Mr. Crew’s successor, Harold O. Levy, eagerly embraced the summer school program. So enthusiastic was Mr. Levy about the program that he personally hit the phones to call the families of children who failed to show up for summer classes, urging them to come to school. But now this is all changing.

It is clear that Mr. Klein has adopted the stance of the “progressive” educators that he installed to control instruction at the Department of Education. These ideologues consider things like summer school, mandated after-school tutoring, and remedial programs a form of “child abuse.”

American children get a lot less schooling than their higher-performing counterparts in many other countries. In Japan, children go to school for a minimum of 220 days, rather than the 180-day schedule that is typical in America, and mandated in New York. For many of our poorer children,school is the only place where they will consistently find structure in their lives.

If they end the summer school program entirely, Mr. Klein and Mayor Bloomberg will be sending the wrong message — that poor academic achievement during the regular school year has no negative repercussions. I see nothing wrong with conveying to children and their parents that this is not true. Mandatory summer school would encourage children to work hard during the regular school year. For some parents, it clarifies the need to give closer personal attention to what their children are doing academically.

But as the chancellor phases out children taking classes during the summer, summer school will still exist — for the teachers. A growth industry in the Bloomberg/Klein era is professional development programs for teachers and administrators. Classes are right now being held all over the city, trying to get pedagogues up to speed in the new “uniform” curriculum. Expensive consultants from out of town are conducting many of these sessions. Press accounts and anecdotal evidence suggests that these “experts” are woefully naïve about the realities, good and bad, of New York City’s public schools.

Skyrocketing professional development expenditures are a hallmark everywhere “progressive”educators dominate. In San Diego,the first place Mr.Klein visited after assuming the leadership of New York’s schools, professional development costs were bankrupting the system.

Anthony Alvarado, a demi god of progressivism,was recently fired from his position as San Diego’s Deputy Chancellor for Instruction. To their horror, the local school board discovered that before Mr. Alvarado came on board, they were spending just $1 million a year on professional development. Now they were bleeding $55 million annually to train their staff.Despite all this training,scores in San Diego are disappointingly flat.
I suspect the same phenomenon will occur here in New York. But part of the price to “develop” our teachers and principals will be paid by the children who will no longer have the summer school option.

Anyone who believes that more school is better, particularly for the children most at risk, must question the path Mr. Klein and Mr. Bloomberg are taking. But for anyone who believes the job of the school system is to educate the staff and not the children, happy days are here again.

© 2003 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.


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