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The Slow Demise of Summer School

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.


Remember Summer School? It's Possible Your Grandkids Won't

Summer School 2012 in my school district is about to start. I was one of a handful of teachers (all special education) to be chosen for this assignment.

All the students attending are those eligible for special education services. They had a section in their IEP (Individual Education Plan) checked off for Extended School Year (ESY), and/or had a course or some credits to make up. The number of students for this session are small. But, the ever-shrinking summer school program is surviving for one more year.

Ten years ago, summer school was much more than a small group of students and teachers. Regular education courses were offered to those who failed during the school year. Summer Bridge programs – courses co-sponsored by UCLA -- were meant to prepare incoming freshmen for high school life. The bridge programs were popular among district teachers and students.

Now, teachers and general education students have to look somewhere else for summer school. Worst yet, students’ parents will have to go to private programs in which they have to pay upwards of $300 to $500 for enrollment. In my district, the parents come from a lower socioeconomic background, meaning they will have to struggle to make ends meet.

My district is not alone. Summer schools at public schools in the state of California are going the way of the dinosaurs.

Some districts have managed to hold on to them. Others have trimmed their offerings to only the basic academic courses such as math and English. Others have turned to private schools and leased out their campuses to them during this time of the year.

Many districts, on the other hand, have done away with them. State funding of education is at an all-time low, meaning drastic cuts have reduced what can be offered. In these particular districts, summer school was the first casualty.

In many cases – whether the school district has a limited form of summer school or don’t have any -- students are told to sign up in another district. The students in my district will have to go to an adult school or campus in neighboring Gardena or Westchester, which are operated by Los Angeles Unified School District.

But this move is not always popular with students and parents. Many may have to travel for miles to get to a campus. And when they get there to enroll, they will have to pay.

The Demise Started Early

Much of the erosion has been blamed on the current economic situation. California was hard hit by the last recession and has struggled to recover from it. On top of that, revenues for public schools were drastically affected when the housing boom went bust.

While the economic upheaval of the last half of the previous decade played a crucial role, the damage was done much earlier.

In 1978, voter-approved Proposition 13 was enacted. This radical proposition, created and funded by a “tax-reform” group known as the Howard Jarvis Group, curtailed property tax throughout the state. While the proposition was seen as a relief to homeowners, it had seriously curtailed funding for public schools.

In the mid to late seventies, summer schools were offering many things such as arts and craft programs, field trips, sports and other activities for elementary and junior high students.

Some of these things were offered at the high school level. However, the emphasis was on academics. Students could either take course to make up credits, or take courses to advance in their education.

Over the next 35 years, school programs started to erode. The effects were immediately felt in summer schools. After the summer of 1977, most of the programs at the elementary and junior high level were scaled back.

Summer schools now consisted mostly of academic courses with little or no frills added. Many affluent school districts managed to hold onto their program. But, eventually, they either turned it over to private schools or other districts or reduced what they had to offer.

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As time marched on, the choices were few. In many cases the only students attending were there for mandatory reasons (make-up).

In later years, the California Lottery was formed on the grounds that it would help fund public education. However, after its implementation, much of the money went to overhead costs. Very little money came from it (in fact, one of the most popular saying in California when referring to the schools' conditions and the lottery for the last two decades was :" I thought that money was going towards education.")

Some Bright Spots

LAUSD and other large school districts have implemented year-round schools, thus, in many cases, the idea of summer school doesn’t really apply. Various city civic centers have picked up the slack, offering summer programs in the arts or sports. Also, private and public organizations have helped to establish pre-schools or sports programs such as the LA-Watts Summer Game, which has been going on for more than 30 years.

Also, there has been an increase in tutoring companies, online schools, and vocational education programs offered by the local Regional Occupational Centers (ROP). Many schools have formed agreements with ROPs, which have had held sessions during the summer, offering various courses such as auto repair, digital production, and horticulture (it needs to be noted, however, that ROPs have been affected by the state’s financial problems and have reduced their offerings or had contracts with school districts terminated).

How it Affects Teachers

Still, the decline of summer schools has had a profound effect on teachers. Summer school is the closest thing teachers have to having paid-overtime. Its demise means that they will have to look for work somewhere during the summer months. Some may opt to teach in a low-pay private summer school program or start tutoring friends or family members’ children.

This year, in my district, summer school will be held in school in a few temporary bungalows. Ten to twelve teachers will teach possibly less than 100 students for half the day during a four-day week. It’s not exactly summer school from a few years back; however, I feel somewhat lucky that school is still in session, barely.

Additional Information

Regional Occupational Centers (ROP) are vocational training facilities designed to prepare high school and adult students for a particular occupation in the technological fields. There are several ROPs throughout California and have existed since 1967. They are public facilities which serve local school districts and offer courses for free to the high school students. Adult students have to pay. Many programs such as SCROC (Southern California Regional Occupational Center) have been nationally recognized.

Extended School Year (ESY): This is a services or program offered by public schools for students with learning disabilities. Usually, the student may have intellectual disabilities or developmental disorders such as Autism and are enrolled in basic or life skill courses. However, students with emotional disorders or mild to moderate disorders have been eligible for this. Still, those who can attend this much have a small box in their IEP labeled “ESY” checked off.

Update 2015 (for my school district)

My district brought summer school back. Now, it's comprehensive and it can be used by both general and special education students. That's the plus; however, another problem has persisted, making this situation more dire than before.

Not enough students are showing up for summer school. And the results are grim. Some courses are being folded due to the lack of students enrolled in the program.

One possible answer to why this is happening may have to do with bad habits on the part of the teachers. For years, teachers were told not to fail students (in particular, special education students). Simply put, it looked good to outsiders and kept the raging parents away.

Now that practice is coming back to affect many summer school teachers. Some have had their courses collapsed while others were relegated to substitute teaching duties before school started.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Dean Traylor


Martin Kloess from San Francisco on June 29, 2012:

Can You Believe This!? And I just love graduating failing students.

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