numbers games

Summer school enrollment falls sharply after city reduces role of state tests

In his first six months in office, Mayor Bill de Blasio has had a nearly singular focus on providing needy students with expanded education services. But thousands fewer struggling students will be attending summer school this year after city officials changed the way students qualify for the program.

Principals sent about 24,000 third- through eighth-grade general education students to summer school this year, down from 32,205 students last year. The 25 percent drop puts summer school enrollment at its lowest level in four years, even though nearly three of four students scored below proficient in both reading and math on state tests last year.

The steep decline comes less than three months after officials announced they were changing grade promotion standards put in place by the Bloomberg administration during a decade-long push to ban “social promotion.” The new policy, buttressed by a state law passed earlier this year, bans the use of state test scores as a major factor in promotion decisions—including summer school recommendations. It also gives principals more discretion when choosing which students have to attend summer school.

(Sources: New York City Department of Education.)
(Sources: New York City Department of Education.)

Though the process changed, officials insisted in April that the outcome — summer school enrollment — wouldn’t. But this year just 7.4 percent of all general education students were sent to summer school, compared to 10 percent last year.

The summer school drop is a rare case of students losing services because of policies pushed by the de Blasio administration. The city will spend an extra $445 million this year for new or expanded after-school and prekindergarten programs that will affect more than 40,000 students.

City officials downplayed the numbers and didn’t explain why enrollment was lower than expected for the program, which began Tuesday and lasts until the end of July.

Chancellor Carmen Fariña called last year’s numbers an “anomaly” this week, though the 2013 numbers are consistent with the previous two years. (In 2011 and 2012, like last year, the city sent about 10 percent of students to summer school based on preliminary test score data. For those two years, though, a smaller percentage actually scored low enough under the old policy to technically warrant the extra help—a fact that only emerged when official test scores were released in August.)

Aaron Pallas, a professor of education at Teachers College who is a proponent of the new policy, said this year’s drop could be a result of principals being given poor guidance by the department or not following directions, but that it was impossible to know without additional information.

“It does seem to warrant further investigation,” Pallas said.

Educators have mixed feelings about summer school’s ability to tackle the city’s achievement gap. The program has consisted of little more than English and math tutoring designed to help students pass an end-of-summer test so they could advance to the next grade, many said.

“If summer school as it is presently designed were effective, we wouldn’t have so many kids entering high school who can barely read,” NYU Professor Pedro Noguera said.

John Galvin, an assistant principal at a school in Brooklyn, said the program’s singular focus made for a “dreary summer” for both students and teachers.

“This created an environment that led to disenchanted kids and made it tougher on teachers to do their jobs,” Galvin said.

But summer school now has the potential to become more engaging, Galvin said, since students no longer need to pass a test to be promoted in August. That test was eliminated under the new policy and replaced with a principal’s review of a portfolio of student work.

Advocates say that NYC Summer Quest, a full-day program that combines tutoring with field trips and other camp-style activities, is a better intervention for low-income students. Summer Quest added 1,000 seats this year and will serve a total of 2,800 students.

Still, education officials have insisted that summer school is better than nothing, especially for poor students who make up the majority of summer school attendees and who are more likely to lose ground to their middle-class peers over the summer months. The program, which cost the city $22 million last year, has structure and small class sizes, two factors that researchers believed contributed to a 2009 study’s findings that summer school had “small, positive effects” on student learning.

“If we had our way, even more students would benefit from extended learning and additional time in summer school,” former Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in 2011, when a higher-than-expected number of students were recommended for summer school.

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call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”