It’s summertime and Angela Maxey, principal of Sallye B. Mathis Elementary School, is observing a classroom of 9- and 10-year-olds draw and identify different kinds of triangles.
“Remember this is fourth grade—they’ve just finished third grade, but they’re learning fourth grade curriculum,” says Maxey. “It’s all Common Core.”
This is not your traditional summer school. The kids in this classroom are part of Duval County Public Schools’ Superintendent’s Summer Academy. They’ll be voluntarily spending their summer here, at Sallye B., learning math and science lessons in the classroom and on field trips—with the explicit goal of preventing summer learning losses.
In the three months that they’re out of school, most kids lose some of what they learned in the school year. On average, students start school in the fall about a month behind where they left off in the spring. Research shows that kids from low-income, minority schools lose disproportionately more over the summer. Those losses build up and, down the road, can keep a kid from graduating.
And as Florida phases in the Common Core standards during the school year, educators like Maxey are looking for ways to close that achievement gap.
There’s evidence that some not-for-profit summer programming and certain kinds of remedial summer school can prevent summer losses and even put a kid ahead of the game. But there’s a shortage of research on the effectiveness of voluntary, school-district-run programs like the one in Duval County.
“One of the hopes from the study is that we will have very hard evidence,” says Jennifer McCombs, a senior policy researcher with the Rand Corporation who is studying the summer academy. “It’s that type of evidence that the study will produce that I think would help policymakers to make the best use of scarce resources.”
“The biggest barrier is funding,” says Jacqueline Bowen, who helped run the summer academy in Duval County for several years as the executive director of academic services for Duval County Public Schools.
The summer academy is free for the students. The school district gets enough federal and grant funding for 3,200 kids. There were 8,000 applicants.
One of the lucky ones, a 10-year-old named Antonio, is grateful to have a spot in the camp.
“I love that we learn more, and when we go to the next grade we learn more,” says Antonio.
Bowen has lobbied Washington lawmakers for more summer learning funding, but she says it’s been a challenge.
“They get it when they hear from a person live on the ground, but I don’t know how long it stays in front of them,” says Bowen, as she stands at the back of the classroom watching the kids work out the triangle exercise. “I wish I could bring some of them with me. If I could have served 8,000, we would have had 8,000.”