How white and black students use summer school differently

New report is a spark for change at OPRF

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By Lacey Sikora

Contributing Reporter

In October, Oak Park and River Forest High School released its summer school evaluation, which reflected declining summer school enrollment as well as marked differences in how students take advantage of summer offerings among races and class year.

Greg Johnson, assistant superintendent of curriculum, said of the report, "The primary takeaway is that we know our student population is using summer school differently, and we want to do everything we can to help kids get the most out of summer school."

One major conclusion of the evaluation was that students from different racial backgrounds use summer school differently. White students are more likely to attend summer school before their freshman year to smooth their adjustment to the new school and to get a leg up on course requirements. Those students return to summer school less in each year that follows. African American students, often trying to make up academic credits, predominantly attend summer school before their senior year, with lower participation rates in each of the preceding years.  

Johnson says this reflects an access gap, not an achievement gap. "When a certain portion of the population, for example white families, are using summer school to get ahead, it opens up space during the school year for A.P. or dual-credit classes. Other families won't get that space. We're looking at ways to change that gap. We need to make sure that we're providing children that access to courses."

The district is considering a pilot of a hybrid learning model as a possible way to bridge that gap. Johnson describes it as a hybrid between traditional "seat time" and distance learning on a Chromebook.  "The students could get more time in a subject and go more in-depth but not have to be in school more hours."

Other important findings of the evaluation center on bridge programs. The 8 to 9 Connections program is one designed specifically to help students make the leap from middle school to high school. In 2018, 40 students enrolled in the 8 to 9 Connections Program and earned high school credit before entering their ninth-grade year. Of those students, four were white, 27 were African American, and the rest were Hispanic or multi-racial.

Johnson said enrollment in this program is voluntary and students are encouraged to enroll based on information from OPRF's feeder districts, Oak Park's District 97 and River Forest's District 90. "These are kids who we are told might benefit from learning executive function and good study habits. It's based on their track record in eighth grade: test scores, grades, behavior and attendance. It's a way to give these students a booster shot before they enter as freshmen."

A newer program in 2018, the A.P. Summer Bridge Program enrolled 28 students: three white, 11 African American, nine Latino, four multi-racial and one Asian/Pacific Islander.  Some 73 percent of students who completed the summer course attempted their first semester in an A.P. English or history course in the fall. Johnson says of this program, "It's designed with much of the same philosophy as the 8 to 9 Connections but with older students. They are identified by their desire or a teacher recommendation to take an A.P. class. The focus of this program is to improve minority enrollment in our A.P. classes."

Johnson says that the majority population in the School Credit Recovery Program of summer school were African American males. He describes ongoing changes to the program such as hiring teachers who are certified in multiple content areas and clustering classrooms closer to each other, so that students can reap the benefit of exposure to teachers in multiple subject areas.

He said, "We are doing our best to cover these classes with the right expertise. It's a population we know we need to do better by."

Another overall change in summer school? Declining enrollment.  In 2017, 1,242 students enrolled in summer school. In 2018, that number was 1,083. Johnson says the school has been taking steps to address declining enrollment, and acknowledges those steps are not enough.

 "We are trying to figure out the decrease in overall numbers. Some of that could be tied to changes we already made: we no longer offer health. We decreased financial literacy classes. But that doesn't explain the entire trend. We need to survey our families and get a better understanding of the courses they want to see. Our digital literacy class has been a great success, can we make that a bigger success?"

He points to changes made in 2018 that did not appear to have a positive impact on enrollment.

"Last year, we changed our registration process. When registration was only open during finite hours of the school day, classes filled up very quickly, and working parents might not have been able to access the system as easily."

He said the school also removed some of the enrollment caps on popular courses. "This didn't solve the problem. We don't know if we should remove caps for all courses, or should we offer different classes?"

At the end of the day, Johnson said the summer school evaluation will inform changes to summer school going forward.  He said the evaluation is not a strategic plan. With the data from the evaluation in hand, he said, "Our big challenge moving forward is how to make a plan based on the report."

SAY Connects is sponsored by the Good Heart Work Smart Foundation in partnership with Success for All Youth (SAY). 

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Reader Comments

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Chi Lisa  

Posted: December 12th, 2018 3:24 PM

I can tell you right now why the enrollment is down: COST. $200 bucks per class credit. It's ridiculous

Christopher Bell  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 11:15 AM

There at three elements ... tests, current level and teacher rec. and three bandings. Basic intermediate and advanced for core classes math / reading. This goes into system when child is 6 grade ish and determines where slotted... parents can request in middle and require in high school that they are bumped up but does little good of child is not ready....

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 10:51 AM

Mr. Bell...1. Rarely has anyone said they enjoy my posts. so thank you. 2. You are the exception to the rule. Most children in Oak Park or anywhere else for that matter, do not have Ivy League / U of C educated parents. Then again, I don't have intellect of an Ivy League grad, but I was heavily involved in my daughters education. So the question is, what role do the schools/teachers/administrators play when it comes to placing students on the right track?

Christopher Bell  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 9:12 AM

My kid is perfect example, moved back to OP and kid was placed in lowest track and we said hell no (parents are Harvard/ U of Chicago alum). He was bumped up and with support, did great - fast forward to Senior at OPRF with 14 AP classes and several full rides offers. Point is, parents have to know and make it happen ever step of the way. Kids cant do that ... same with summer school - have to know and use it..

Christopher Bell  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 8:58 AM

@ Ramona. Thanks and I enjoy your posts as well. PArents have to advocate and fight for kids in Oak Park starting in 5-6th grade. Kids develop differently and often kids are put on track which puts upper bound on what they will do at OPRF - which will put upper bound on college and life. Starting salary Michigan undergrad business school 2018 - $154,000 w bonus, Chem Engineering $165,000. Point is, this is very real and parents have to battle.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 8:50 AM

Thank you Mr. Bell for demonstrating the importance of parental involvement in the educational development of our children.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 8:49 AM

@ Maureen. You bring up good point in this context as the need to understand the broader context. Summer school serves one of three functions - get ahead, get done with easy classes to enable more choice or remediation. In order for parents to use strategy effectively, need to know (which many don't) where child is one three track system to be able to use it effectively. N Kumar at Mann explained the track system in 97 well. - you can stay on track or take summer school to bump up to get to more challenges courses. PArents need to know which track kid is on (regardless of race) and be given option to improve. Families will leverage the system to maximize kids advantage - and many other families don't even know what game is. ...

Kline Maureen  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 8:35 AM

What are the statistics (by race) of students entering OPRFHS from elementary schools in OP & RF vs. those entering from schools out of the community? Anecdotally at least, we're often told that a certain number of families of color come to Oak Park when their children reach 9th grade specifically for the high school - that certainly would impact their decision/ability to attend summer school prior to enrolling for their freshman year after they have established residency. What are the racial demographics of the 8th grade graduating classes from D90 and D97? And neither here nor there, really, but I'm wondering why the footnote for SAY Connects and GHWS Foundation is included at the bottom of the story when the story makes no mention of either?

Christopher Bell  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 8:17 AM

Also, more broadly, by 7th grade students are placed on a track that will enable / constrain level of AP coursework /track. Spoken with many parents that had no idea that if child is in basic math - no way to get to calculas in high school. Depending on college aspirations, put child a big disadavtange (i.e. against other kids at OPRF and more broadly).

Christopher Bell  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 8:12 AM

One of the important missing elements is communication or options and impact as early as 7/8th grade. Many parents have no idea that not taking summer school early (freshman) will set child on a track and vice versa.

Alex Garcia  

Posted: December 5th, 2018 6:00 AM

@ Ramona: Race-based politics is too woven into Oak Park's fabric at this point. As we have seen recently, it dominates all facets of policy and decision making in the village, which now views itself as a guarantor of outcomes, not as an enabler for opportunity. As a result, the place is slowly sliding into dysfunction and decline and too many of its residents seem content with that. Indeed, the same can be said for the county and state right now,

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 10:22 PM

Why does everything at OPRF have to boil down to race? Based on the article, it appears some students/parents make wise decisions and some don't. Stop trying to equalize the outcomes. All students have access to summer school, some leverage it to enhance their education and some use it to make up for not doing so well the first time around. If they haven;t figured out what to do by their senior year, then something is amiss

Bridgett Baron  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 7:08 PM

Curious why cost is not mentioned in this news story. Though a public school, the full cost of a summer school class is $200.

Jen Purrenhage  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 5:35 PM

There isn't enough time for kids to take full advantage of all that OPRF has to offer. My kid took summer school in order to open up space in his schedule for art. But summer school is a great option for some kids - it basically creates a "block schedule" to focus on just one class. I'd love to see OPRF apply for PE waivers to reduce the excessive PE requirements. That would give more time for students to explore more while in high school. It would also be great if summer school offered more 2.5 week classes (there was no choice at all for my incoming freshman) or run classes in the second half of the summer.

Michael Nevins  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 4:55 PM

Shouldn't the ultimate goal of the AP Summer Bridge Program not be attendance in AP classes, but to score high enough on the AP test (generally either a 4 or 5 on the 1-5 test) to obtain college credit? I understand that one cannot obtain credit without first being in the class and taking the test, but it should be acknowledged that there is much more to this story.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: December 4th, 2018 9:52 AM

If they want increased participation in summer school, OPRF could start signing up all incoming 8th grade kids for summer school classes as the default, then they either attend or they would have to take steps to opt out. The same way that companies increase participation in things like 401K programs, you are just automatically participating instead of making it a choice. Use money that would otherwise be blown on an olympic size pool and everyone could attend summer school.

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