Monday, May 31, 2021

Summer Rising Will Flop In Many Schools. Here's Why

I was beyond upset when I learned that my school's summer program was going to look no different than regular summer school. The summer plan includes teachers at desks working only with NX students. No bridge programs of any sort would take place. No experiential learning. No enrichment programs and no remote instruction so that students may engage in any programs during the day. None of that. Summer school would be only to remediate this year -again. Just like last year. Only the usual three hours of classes with no break, with maybe an offer to stay after with an SBO -if a child wanted to. 

Turns out, many schools all across New York are planning the same damn thing. 

The past year and a half has been extremely difficult for children. Over the course of this term, many of my (mostly remote) students have gradually turned more and more inward, handing in fewer assignments and attending fewer and fewer live lessons. Their parents are communicating to me that it has been gradually more challenging just to get their children out of bed and into classes every day. And, from what I gather through conversations with them, the economic toll this has taken on the families of many of my Title I students has been significant. As a teacher, I was counting on a thoughtful program that would slowly work children back into the outrageously fast-paced and pressure-filled routine that we all know as school. 

Gradually transitioning students back into "normal' isn't just common sense. Experts are indicating the same thing. Here is how one expert described the challenge for WaPo's On Parenting blog back in March:
“Our children are going to show signs or symptoms of anxiety when they reenter ... And because parents are so relieved their children are getting back to school, “we won’t understand why they’re not happy. ...we also need to realize that this transition back (if they’re lucky enough to have it) will be accompanied by nerves, anxiety and questions...."

All children will face these (or similar) challenges in the Fall. Not just NX students. This is why transitioning back into what "normal" used to be (as opposed to simply returning to what we were all doing before) is a very important path to follow.  

So I was excited when Chancellor Porter announced the 'Summer Rising' plan. Obviously Tweed and City Hall want a full and complete easing of the students back into school routines. Here is some of what is included in the Summer Rising plan (and it is amazing):

  • Open to a large amount of students (not just NX students)
  • The encouragement of experiential learning 
  • PSAL (during the summer months!)
  • Focus on the whole-child (SEL)
  • SBOs funded by Tweed but chosen by the school
  • Enrichment Programs Galor!
  • Remote learning (for HS students) as an option if schools took it.

So what's the problem here? If our students need to be transitioned back into normal, and if Tweed and City Hall want a transition back into normal, then why are several schools planning the same old summer program for their students? 

The answer is simple: Superintendents, principals and incentives. 

The superintendents' function in New York City schools is to help schools produce good data. Teacher effectiveness, test scores, attendance, school culture are examples of what shows up on a superintendent's dashboard. If their data dashboards do not all show green ink (as opposed to yellow or red) and point up (meaning that the data seems to be trending in an upward trajectory), then the supes put pressure on the principals to change the data. The principals are fully aware of this, of course. So they design school programs that are specifically intended to make their boss' dashboard show all green and point only up. The principals and superintendents are therefore each naturally incentivized to produce only a dashboard that shows all green and points only up. 

And Summer Rising does nothing to alter or change these natural incentives. 

And what's on that dashboard? Attendance, culture, passing rates and value added scores. That's the way I like to categorize them. Any one of the metrics that are reflected on the superintendent's dashboard will fall into one of these categories.  Now we should keep away from "valued added scores" and and "culture" for this year. No one really cares about any of that right now because of COVID. What remains are what schools are naturally incentivized to build programs around: Attendance and passing rates. 

That's it. Having an emotionally prepared (and, in many cases, repaired) student for September will not be on this dashboard. Some of the resulting data from the Summer Rising Program, will, however, show up on the school's dashboard next year. And that -the achievement data that a school's Summer Rising program actually produces- had better produce a dashboard that shows all green and points only up.  This is what schools are actually incentivized to do this year for summer school.

Here are a few examples of what schools are not naturally incentivized to do this summer:
  • Open up to  large amount of students
  • Encouraging experiential learning 
  • PSAL (during the summer months!)
  • Focus on the whole-child (SEL)
  • SBOs funded by Tweed but chosen by the school
  • Enrichment Programs Galor!

In fact, some district/building leaders can easily make the case that many of these data have little to do with actually 'reaching proficiency' on these metrics (attendance and passing rates) and many of those people may are superintendents and principals -the ones who will actually build the programs. Summer Rising may sound nice to them, but reaching the metrics is what pays the bills, know what I mean? 

You had better. Because that's what pays our bills.

The very real consequence of this seems quietly to be playing out right now, as principals are beginning to design their summer programs. Many schools will build a program for July and August that encourages only the more challenged students to attend (so as to remediate an NX grade because they fell behind). The rest of the children in many of these schools will have to find another city sponsored program or "transition" themselves this summer on their own, in parks that are no longer as safe and in neighborhoods that are no longer as active and in a city that is currently flooded with illegal guns. 

That's terrible, if you ask me. But that is the result of experienced district and building leaders responding to their natural professional incentives. 

So unless your school's principal is a real 'damn the torpedos' type of person, and he or she chooses to focus on the whole child and build a program that transitions the students back into the world of school, the only thing Rising next Summer may be your bank account from that extra per session. Because your school may be going full-on for the attendance and pass rate metrics, but bare bones on the enrichment. 

This is going to have enormous implications on the issues you and deal with in the classroom next September.  This about the difference between an emotionally prepared student and one who is not. Now imagine whole classrooms filled  with emotionally unprepared students next Fall. Think about those implications. Summer Rising could mitigate those issues. But, if plan is going to work, then they will have to find ways to change the natural incentives around designing an educational program.  

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