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Counting on Summer Math Programs

July 29, 2010 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

While Minnesota libraries and summer schools are rife with summer reading programs, summer math programs are few and far between.
The importance of summer reading is clear. Students can lose up to one-third of the reading ability they exhibit between the end of school in the spring and the beginning in the fall. Three months of summer inactivity means at least three months of school spent simply trying to get the student back to last spring's level.

The same equation holds for math. "We spend two or three months on math before we see an increase in ability [over last spring's test scores]," said Tim Berg, a high school math teacher in Fisher. "The evidence is there. You can see the decline in the test scores from spring to the following fall."

An examination of Minnesota library systems and summer school programs finds reading programs in the dozens. Access to summer math programs is more difficult. Librarians, summer school directors and teachers contacted by Minnesota 2020 had never heard of summer math programs, although they all though they would be a good idea.

Minneapolis Public Schools is one of the districts that does offer math through its summer school program. Jan Braaten, director of the district's summer school programs, said about 10,000 students in the district attend summer school and they all have access to math programs.

The key to that access is the district's alignment of school-year instruction with summer school instruction. This is the first summer that K-4 studies have been aligned. "The verdict is still out because summer school is still in session," Braaten said, "but the anecdotal feedback is good."

Minneapolis has ramped up summer school from four to six hours and is looking at going from four to five days. The reason? Not only does summer school fight learning loss, but it also takes aim at the achievement gap.

Minnesota is at the bottom of the nation when test scores of minority students are compared to those of white students. This situation has been ongoing and appalls many, but little has been effective in curbing the gap. Minneapolis educators will use an increased summer school program as one weapon against the achievement gap.

Of course, summer learning loss and the achievement gap are not the only issues. Minnesota needs highly educated workers that can compete in the 21st-century global economy. Minnesotans won't compete only against workers in Massachusetts and California, but also workers from Singapore, Finland and India.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education:

 

  • Economic forecasts project 20 percent to 33 percent increase in scientific and technical occupations in Minnesota in ten years;
  • Students who complete Algebra II in high school more than double their chances of earning a four-year college degree;
  • Eighteen out of the 20 fastest growing occupations will be tied to the science technology, engineering and math disciplines;
  • Eighty percent of current jobs require education beyond high school;
  • >High-tech workers earned an average wage of $68,600 (21st ranked in the nation), or 67 percent more than Minnesota's average private sector wage.

In order for Minnesota to continue growing as an economically vibrant state, we must invest in math and science education and provide opportunities for children to develop critical skills in these areas.  At the same time, we must continue on all fronts to close the achievement gap.  A key element in doing both is ensuring that Minnesota schools and community organizations are well funded and positioned to offer summer math programs to curb any learning loss, which is a terrible inefficiency in our education system.

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