This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at www.IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.
The Mt. Diablo school board has unanimously agreed to phase in more stringent graduation requirements over two years, partially restoring cuts made more than three years ago. When the school board cut requirements from 230 to 200 units in 2010, the rationale was that the district would save money because it wouldn't need to offer summer school to students who failed previously required classes.
But even though the district will soon expect students to add 20 units to their course loads -- including a third year of math -- trustees don't plan to bring back summer school. I spoke to a few outside experts about whether this is a sound idea and received a variety of responses.
Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, said in an email that the value of summer school may depend on its quality.
"The evidence is unclear as to whether it motivates restless adolescents to require more hours tied to desks in conventional classrooms, as opposed to facilitating internships and real-world experience," he said. "If the old option of summer school was mainly remedial, forcing more seat time could backfire, undercutting their motivation. But if students are challenged with higher level or innovative classes, this could advance learning, even their readiness for college."
Michael Kirst, professor of education at Stanford and president of the state Board of Education, said the district should look at its priorities across the board as it increases graduation requirements and reinstates cuts with new state funding.
"My guess is they'll put the summer school in as (the requirements) hit," he said. "You'd have to know what all their priorities are on the ground. But it seems that they know that it's related to summer school and you have to be able to make up credits."
Rose Lock, Mt. Diablo's assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support, explained in an email that the district has devised other ways to help students succeed with the stricter requirements. Here's what she wrote (excerpted):
"[W]e have to begin with high expectations for all our students. For the past two years, our district has been strategically focused on developing a comprehensive system of support for all students to achieve at the highest level. Our staffs are continuing to refine their practice as professional learning communities where our shared values are collaboration, powerful first instruction, use of common assessments and directed intervention. During the 2012-13 school year, principals and teams of teachers from all of our schools participated in four full days of Response to Intervention (RTI) professional development. They gained information and learned strategies that are helping them to formulate and implement a systemic process to ensure every student will receive the time and support needed to learn at high levels. Many of our schools have identified time during the school day for students to access additional support.
"In addition, teachers are using benchmark and formative assessments to determine what skills and concepts students are not mastering so the support is targeted. This response system will help us focus on students specific needs immediately and not wait until they fail. Also in 2012-2013, we provided training in an overview of the Common Core (Curriculum Standards) for every district teacher ...
"For this school year, we are preparing to expand the professional development for all teachers in Common Core. The goal, of course, is to ensure that our teachers are prepared to implement the CCSS and shift instructional practices that support more rigorous content and higher and deeper level thinking for our students ...
"Hundreds of our high school students are enrolled in academies in all five of our high schools ... Students in academies have shown to achieve at higher levels including higher graduation rates ... We will continue to provide Cyber High for students who need remediation and to make up credits. We will also continue to explore other online curriculum for our students. Our adult school has also been able to offer limited summer school classes for some seniors and juniors to make up credits for graduation."