Heading North

I’m off to Iceland to see (we hope) the Northern Lights and then to Chicago for my husband’s family Christmas party. Michael E. Lopez graciously has volunteered to fill in for the next week.

Time to end summer vacation?

Summer vacation is bad for kids — especially low-income kids, writesMatthew Yglesias on Slate.  Middle-class kids may go to camp, play sports or travel, while poor kids sit at home with the TV. That creates “massive avoidable inequities,” he argues.

A 2011 RAND literature review concluded that the average student “loses” about one month’s worth of schooling during a typical summer vacation, with the impact disproportionately concentrated among low-income students

“While all students lose some ground in mathematics over the summer,” RAND concluded, “low-income students lose more ground in reading while their higher-income peers may even gain.” . . . Poor kids tend to start school behind their middle-class peers, and then they fall further behind each and every summer . . .

A majority of the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic-status students in Baltimore can be attributed to differences in summer learning loss, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.

“School is important,” concludes Yglesias.   “It should happen all year ’round.”

Some urban districts are “blending academics with recreational activities” to prevent summer learning loss, reports EdSource. Most enrichment programs are run by nonprofits and supported by federal or state funds and foundation grants, not by district funds.

Traditional remedial summer classes can be “pretty grim,” said Katie Brackenridge, senior director for expanded learning initiatives with the Partnership for Children and Youth, whose “Summer Matters” campaign pushes for expanded summer programs. “Part of it is that kids already walk in the door probably not liking learning so much, and that’s how they got stuck in remediation in the first place. We’re looking at how do you make those learning opportunities engaging.”

Seventh graders at Oakland Unified’s Coliseum College Prep Academy visited San Francisco’s Exploratorium, then used baking soda and calcium chloride  to explain chemical reactions to the eighth graders.

Santa Ana-based THINK Together offers summer enrichment programs to nearly 13,000 students in 10 school districts throughout the state.

Enrichment programs typically run about six weeks and are offered for as long as six hours a day. Mornings are traditionally spent on academics, while the afternoons are dedicated to hands-on STEM studies – science, technology, education and mathematics programs – arts and crafts, lab work or sports.

According to a Summer Matters study, How Summer Learning Strengthens Student Success, students raised their vocabulary skills as much as one-third of an instructional grade in six weeks and improved their attitudes about school and reading.

Funding summer enrichment programs for disadvantaged and struggling students is a lot cheaper than extending the school year by one or two months.

Calling an end to the day

In contrast with Andy Rotherham, who lauds efforts to create round-the-clock schools, I write here about the importance of calling an end to the day. (In all fairness, he didn’t say that individual teachers should be working around the clock—but one wonders how such a school could get by without a cadre of late-night and early-morning teachers. Sleep goes by the wayside, as do the rhythms of the day.)

Today my spring break begins (I don’t teach on Fridays). This morning I started clearing the clutter off of my desk. It was a fairly straightforward matter, yet in the rush of the past two months or so, other things took priority, and the piles mounted higher.

I had neglected meals, dental work, basic home repairs, correspondence, friends, family, musical instruments, and book upon book that I hadn’t had time to read.

Most of the teachers I know work longer and harder than I do, from what I can see. They spend evenings and weekends at school. They get to school before dawn. They spend hours at home grading homework and tests. They take on additional school duties and activities.

We live in a society that places high priority on work. Few professions have reasonable hours; most of them sprawl over one’s life. Many European countries take a different approach to work (though this might be changing): their work days are shorter, their vacations longer, and their work duties more contained. Here, in the U.S., long work days are a fact of life.

Teaching, though, goes a bit farther. It requires your soul (or whatever you would like to call it). It takes most of what you have: intellect, wit, emotion, presence of mind, physical stamina and agility, character, intensity of intention, and much more. There are days when lessons seem to go effortlessly—but on other days, you must throw yourself into the lesson in order to get things going or quell disruption. You have to be alert and responsive, minute after minute, and then do the same in the next lesson, and the next.

Unless you exercise caution, and unless you have made something of a fortress in your life, you can end up with nothing but school. I don’t just mean that you spend all your time on it; I mean that you lose even the sunset, even the sense of a meal. To have an hour to yourself (or with others), to enjoy the rhythms of the day, becomes taboo. The dedicated teacher is the one running down the hall with papers to photocopy while wolfing down a power bar.

To resist such sprawl, one needs a stronghold outside of school, an obligation to call an end to the day at some point—maybe not every day, but on certain days. For some, this may be religious observance. For others, it may be their children. For others still, it may be a commitment (not having to do with school) or a self-imposed routine. Some may have combinations of the three. It must be something sacred (in a religious or secular sense), something that cannot be eroded.

Why is it important to have a stronghold? For one thing, it makes life more interesting; you have a retreat, a chance to put together the many events of the day and gain some perspective on them. For another, it means you have more to bring your students. Teachers about to drop of exhaustion cannot be good role models—or maybe they can for a little while, until they actually drop. Students need to be around adults with interesting and varied lives, whether or not they know about these lives.

I don’t tell my students much about my life, but now and then I let them in on a special occasion. For instance, last week I went to my high school in Boston to attend an alumnae (girls’ school) book discussion led by two of my former English teachers. My students were excited to hear about this and asked me about it afterward.

No matter what the pressure to do “whatever it takes,” teachers need a counterweight: a time and place that does not and will not belong to school. It is good for everyone: for the teachers themselves, for the students, and for our rude and ragged world.

There is still another benefit: the twilight gets a larger audience.

Happy to be blue

I’m off to Florida to go cruising with the Moody Blues, Ambrosia, The Zombies and others. No, it’s not a Carnival ship. It’s Italian. So our engines will be running when we go aground.

Michael Lopez and Diana Senechal will be blogging here in the next week. I hope you’ll enjoy your vacation from me as much as I enjoy not blogging. (If you see a post by me, the odds are I wrote it before I left.)

Farvel for awhile

Farvel is Norwegian for farewell, according to the Internet. I’m off to Norway (and then to a wedding in Chicago) for the next 12 days. While I’m basking in the midnight sun (or freezing in the daytime rain), Diana Senechal and Michael E. Lopez will be guest blogging. They’ve done a great job here in the past and I think you’ll enjoy the holiday from me.

School rules year round

Schools are trying to enforce school rules on weekends and in the summer, reports USA Today.

Students across the country are going on notice that drinking, smoking, using drugs or posting risqué photos on the Web on weekends and during the summer can get them sidelined from school activities during the school year.

Student athletes and those involved in other extracurricular activities in states including New Jersey, South Carolina and Indiana are signing codes of conduct that hold them accountable for their behavior regardless of whether school is in session.

Some districts require athletes to “be on good behavior 24-7 during the school year,” USA Today reports. Others have year-round rules that include athletes, band members and choir members; some go even farther.

Indiana’s American Civil Liberties Union is representing two female volleyball players in the Smith Green Community schools who were disciplined for allegedly posting sexually suggestive photos on social networking sites during summer vacation.

Students wearing the school’s uniform can be held to a higher standard, says Erik Weber, attorney for the Smith-Green schools. “If they don’t like the rules, they don’t have to play,” Weber says.

Schools are having trouble enforcing rules on campus during school hours. I’m surprised they’re trying to control what students do on their own time.