In today's paper, I read that my school district (Mt. Diablo Unified) is looking at giving summer school the axe in the next round of budget cuts. I'm assuming of course they're referring to next year's program, as this year's is about to start tomorrow, I believe. (I'm not working it this year as I got my application in too late - which probably wasn't 100% accidental on my part.) This isn't surprising, as they've already slashed the summer school program quite a bit, as I think that all they have are programs for high school and maybe middle school students this year.
I hate working summer school. When I say that, most people assume that I'm referring to the students, but that's not my problem. The kids were just fine, although I did have one particular senior class one year that was so brain-dead that they made me lose the will to live. My problem has to do with the system itself. Basically, the whole concept is founded on a lie - the lie that you can make up an entire semester's worth of work in three weeks. I've also had other problems with administrators who coddled the kids and refused to follow-through on the attendance policy. (Don't get me wrong - I've worked with some really great administrators as well.) The nice thing about teaching in general is that I feel pretty good about what I do for a living. Summer school though? I don't have that same feeling.
Personally, I think that getting rid of summer school is good news overall - not just because it gives me a very convenient excuse not to do it. (For the record, working summer school is extra money. Nobody has to do it, and the way I get paid, I'm still getting a check during the summer months.) It's a good thing because summer school has become a safety net for slackers. I've had several students who had absolutely no problem failing their classes so they could quickly and easily make it up during the summer. Shoot, I remember one girl telling me that she deliberately failed because summer school gave her "something to do" during the summer.
Of course, I realize that there will be some students with legitimate issues (like a prolonged illness) who will be unfairly hurt by this, but for the most part it will give the slackers one less reason to not do their work. Failing a class will actually have more of an impact on their life, as many of them want to be able to walk with their graduating class.
Another impact of all this is that graduation rates are going to go down, at least, at first. Of course, many people will see that as a negative. However, you should try sitting amongst a group of teachers during a graduation ceremony. You'll hear "How the hell did he/she manage to graduate?" quite a few times. Many people will tell you that the graduation rates aren't high enough. I'm here to tell you that they're TOO HIGH. I had a student this year who was thoughtful, an excellent writer, skilled in the sciences, and was all-around diligent and productive. And yet she received the exact same piece of paper as this one doofus who could hardly read and write.
What's wrong with making a high school diploma a little more prestigious, elitist even? We shouldn't look at it as a right but an honor that one earns. No, I'm not saying that it should only be for people who are college-bound and enrolled in several honors classes, but we need to end this culture of social promotion that things like summer school enable. And we also need to deal with what the real problem is. If you truly believe that the graduation rates are too low, it's real easy to point to the school system and the teachers. While they're certainly a factor in the problem, the thing that's really gone awry is our very society. Too many parents out there don't give a damn about their children's education in the first place; how can we expect the school system to fix that? Not only that, but the kids themselves are never held accountable.
Why is it that the system is failing the students when they are the ones who are failing? Isn't it possible that in some cases the problem is the other way around, that the students are simply failing the system? After all, I'm fairly certain that there are some non-graduating seniors who say that I was the one who failed them, even though they didn't turn in their assignments/show up to class/do the work/read the books/etcetera. Heaven forbid we give people a sense of responsibility.