The so-called summer slide is a pretty straightforward concept. During the long summer months, kids backslide on the academic gains they’ve made during the school year.

Researchers generally agree summer sets kids’ learning back about two months. Losses are more pronounced for kids from low-income families, probably because those kids tend to have less access to books or their parents don’t send them to summer camps.

Learning Curve-01We also know there are things school districts can do to effectively combat the trend. When I looked at this issue a couple months back, I mentioned one such program in San Diego Unified:

That could look like the five-week program at Chollas-Mead Elementary, in Chollas View, where students are in a classroom part of the day, then get outside for hands-on science lessons. They play in the dirt! There’s also a physical fitness component. It’s turned out some good results, too. Parents whose kids have participated, love it. Almost all of them said their kids were more motivated to read at the end of summer.

There’s more to that program than playing in the dirt, of course. Dirt-digging is part of an outdoor science lab, where kids make connections to plants and animals they’re reading about in class. Naturalists from Groundwork San Diego deliver lessons with help from students from UC San Diego.

More than 80 percent of the kids who attend this program make gains in reading by the end of summer. Not bad at all, considering all of its students come from low-income families and about three-quarters are still learning English.

Eighty percent is a nice number. But to understand what’s working you need to step inside a classroom. These second- and third-graders won’t spend their five weeks in the program coloring in books or cutting paper into dumb little shapes. This isn’t babysitting.

We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?

You need to see little boys, in a class of six, dissecting words. Or see the principal, Julia Bridi-Freel, coast into a classroom, sit on the floor to help a girl connect letters to sounds, then stand up and model instruction for the teacher. It’s something to watch a principal teaching kids and teachers at the same time.

All this instruction is important, considering these students will likely head to Lincoln High one day. It’s hard to see anything but potential when you look at boys and girls. But for these kids – low-income students, English learners, headed to the lowest-performing high school in the district – the odds they’ll graduate high school prepared to enter college are not on their side.

Which is why the program is happening here, at Chollas-Mead. It started as a pilot project, a sort of coming together between the school district and an entire network of philanthropists and nonprofits. It’s envisioned as a way to buck the trend in high-poverty areas by focusing energies on the youngest students.

“This is exactly the kind of summer school program that we’d like to see expanded,” said school board trustee Richard Barrera.

And, in coming years, the district will be phasing out year-round schools, which means more kids will have long summer breaks. The need will be even greater.

So I’ve been curious, if a program like the one at Chollas-Mead is working, why don’t we have more of them? That happens to tie into a question from one of our readers this week.

Question: “How can San Diego Unified provide summer learning opportunities for more kids who need them?”  — Laura Kohn, executive director of the Education Synergy Alliance

Find $15 million. That’s what Barrera says it would cost to expand a program like the one at Chollas-Mead to more than 30 schools in high-poverty areas, as district officials hope to do.

One reason the literacy program works here is that the Diamond Educational Excellence Partnership, part of the nonprofit Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation, was able to galvanize support for the program and pull together agencies like the school district, YMCA, UC San Diego and the city of San Diego.

But even with partnering agencies donating staff time or facility use, it gets expensive paying teachers to run class over the summer, which accounts for the bulk of the costs.

This year, the district put up $150,000 for the program at Chollas-Mead – which runs for five weeks – and a shorter, budget-friendlier version of the program at two other elementary schools. That’s a blessing and a bummer. It’s good the district is investing to expand the program, but research says kids benefit most from high-quality summer programs that last six weeks.

There was a glimmer of hope that the city would step up this year provide additional funds.

Councilmember Myrtle Cole, whose district Chollas-Mead falls into, seemed sympathetic. In her budget request to the mayor’s office, Cole asked that additional funding for the program be included in the city’s annual spending plan.

Councilmembers David Alvarez and Marti Emerald also signed off on it. But support from less than a majority of Council members wasn’t enough to move the issue forward.

Still, Barrera says a summer literacy program is a completely appropriate investment for the city to make.

Education drives neighborhood vitality, Barrera told me. And since the city’s budget forecast is looking brighter, now would be a good time for the city to up its support for schools, he said.

He’s thinking $7.5 million is a fair number. Funding summer programs at 30 schools would cost about $15 million. San Diego Unified could pay one half, the city the other.

That was news to the Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office. Spokesman Charles Chamberlayne pointed to the $501,000 the city is already investing to keep expanded hours at city libraries. A number of educational programs are operated at libraries during those hours (including, in small part, the one at Chollas-Mead).

“That’s a half-million dollars!” Chamberlayne said. “Are you asking about funding on top of that? We’re confused as to where this request is even coming from.”

That answer doesn’t do much for Barrera.

“The funding for the libraries is the core responsibility of the city,” he said. “I’m glad to see the city is fulfilling that. But the city can do more to partner with our district during the summer. And this is a model program that the city has an opportunity to invest in.”

The role the city of San Diego actually plays in educating kids, and the role it should play, is part of a larger conversation. Unlike mayors of other major cities like Los Angeles or Chicago, San Diego’s mayor has no formal role in the school district.

The point is, if San Diego Unified is counting on a gift from the city to help fund summer school, it doesn’t sound like that’s happening anytime soon. So that brings us back to square one.

The district doesn’t have the funds to operate summer reading programs districtwide. When it finalized its budget for this year, the district was still facing a $34.6 million shortfall.

But Barrera’s optimistic that as the governor sends more money to school districts, as he’s promised to do through the Local Control Funding Formula, enough cash will be freed up in the next three to five years to have a literacy program like the one at Chollas-Mead at 30 schools.

That’s the extent of the plan. When it comes to expanding summer literacy programs to all students who need it, a school board member’s optimism will have to do for now.

Ed Reads of the Week

• A Special Education Dilemma (The Atlantic)

There’s been a lot to dislike about No Child Left Behind. Schools and districts that failed to make progress on standardized tests faced severe sanctions. Teachers complained that frequent testing took time away from actual teaching.

So it was to much fanfare that Congress voted to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the law on which No Child Left Behind is based.

It’s not done yet. The House and Senate still have to reconcile their different versions of the bill, President Obama has to sign it and details of the new testing requirements are yet to be ironed out.

Still, both versions of the bill give schools and states more flexibility to exclude certain kids from testing. This, The Atlantic says, could bring unintended consequences for students with special needs. By excluding them from tests, parents and educators could be prevented from seeing if kids’ needs are being met.

In this story, we meet a mom who thinks her son, who has special needs, made academic progress because of required testing. Results showed he was capable of achieving more than teachers initially expected out of him.

• The Test That Can Look Into a Child’s (Reading) Future (NPR)

This is some science-fiction stuff right here. Or maybe just science. Anyways, it’s cool.

A neurobiologist at Northwestern University thinks she’s been able to develop a test that can predict children’s future reading skill long before they’ve learned to read.

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, School Finances, The Learning Curve

    Written by Mario Koran

    Mario is an investigative reporter focused on immigration, border and related criminal justice issues. Reach him directly at 619.325.0531, or by email:

    NorthParkian subscriber

    PrimeTime (the afterschool program) offers free half-day summer camp for one month at many elementary and middle schools. These programs are also tuned into academic skills as well.  The middle school program my son attended this summer included Spanish, STEM and language arts instruction.  So it's not all or nothing, there are other available programs through SDUSD.

    That said, the half day schedule is rough for working parents, and I know many parents believe in letting kids be kids over the summer, learning other life skills, like making your own fun when you're bored.

    John Kennett
    John Kennett subscriber

    A while back, when Nathan Fletcher was running for mayor, he dared to talk education. SDEA, the SD teachers union of which I am a member, was horrified that a potential City leader would dare to attempt to involve himself in education. Nathan had always been supportive of education as an Assemblyman so it was a natural thing for him to do. Given the Education Establishment's attitude toward Nathan, would it be surprising if the current City administration were to wonder where all this" City should help fund education" talk was coming from??

    John H Borja
    John H Borja subscriber

    Here's a new concept. There is no such thing as "summer slide".  Just as our lovely computers need time to "download", children need to allow their 'computers" to download. It really doesn't matter whether the child is watching "I love Lucy" all summer or learning soccer or learning how to swim or just playing outside. Adults, as well as children need time to 'chill", to make sense of what their neurons have acquired. Oh, "they will lose their momentum from the spring", baloney. The mind does not take a walk. It is always "on". Educators have concluded that summer is the ultimate wasteland and must be bridged. No. Our society does little to allow for 'downtime". The Spanish are beginning to adopt our ways....terrible. Their tradition has been to shut down operations by 1p.m. and reopen after about 5p.m. Our go-go-go style is really hurting us. Recharging means we come back from a nap, or whatever, with greater energy, enthusiasm. Nothing has been lost. Children are downloading ALL THE TIME.  They do not stop the last day of school. Our society dictates that we maximize, maximize, maximize. And, in all reality we end up with less, less, and less. All the exigencies still exist, but with a calmer view, better results. We need to treat ourselves, our children with a huge amount of stress reduction. We'll all be better off, healthier, and perhaps richer in many ways.

    Mike subscriber

    Can I make a suggestion to the schools who got short-changed by the city budget?  What if instead of teaching these kids with fully paid teachers, we give the teachers their summer off as usual.  Instead we'll simply pay for a crew of administrative staff to coordinate the logistics's the crazy part...bring in high school and college volunteers?  They need the volunteering experience on their resumes and the kids need someone to teach them letters and grammar.  I think high school volunteers can handle that.  Sure, there won't be professional teaching methodology, but it's much much better than nothing.  Plus, having some role models to look up to will help the young kids too.  Would the teachers union accept this proposal?  Would we be able to cobble together $1M instead of $15M for support staff salaries for 30 schools?

    Mike subscriber

    Schools:  We need $7.5M to teach kids.

    Mayor:  No.

    Chargers:  We need $600M for football

    Mayor:  Okidoki, and we'll spend a few more to do all the studies ahead of time and sell some land and pay for a special election.

    EducatedMom subscribermember

    It's all about choices...  The district got more than enough LCFF money from the state for fiscal year 2016-17 to expand the summer school program to twice as many schools as Richard Barrera would like to see, but the district spent the funds on employee compensation.  That choice has set the district up for not only a $34.6 million deficit in 2015-16 but a $94.7 million deficit in 2016-17 and a $119 million deficit in 2017-18 (see page 16 at$file/2015-16%20Budget%20Adoption%20Presentation%2C%206-23-15.pdf).  With future deficits that large, it's sadly unrealistic to think that the district will be able to expand the Chollas-Mead summer program anytime in the foreseeable future.

    David subscriber

    Summer school is a much needed program. Hats-off to all those schools that provide this opportunity for their communities. The O'Farrell Charter School has provided both summer school and bus passes for students for he past fifteen years. Keep up the great work