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Summer School

Remediation, Enrichment, Extended-Year for Students with Special Needs, The History of Summer School, Funding

Summer school programs, also known as extended-year programs, are designed to provide educational opportunities to students during the summer months when schools traditionally observe summer break or summer vacation. Summer school programs generally fit into one of three categories: (1) remediation, (2) enrichment, or (3) extended-year for students with special needs.


Remediation summer school programs serve students who have difficulty mastering required core content and skills. Often these students lack the required prerequisites and/or skills needed to graduate from one level to the next, or they lack the required credits to graduate from high school. They may also have failed one or more minimum competency skill examinations required by a local school district or the state.

Remediation programs are designed to deliver a specific curriculum in a condensed period of time, emphasizing the mastery of the student's individual deficiency. These summer school classes are generally longer in length (two to three hours per day) and meet for a shorter duration of time (four to six weeks) than traditional classes, which often meet for forty-five to ninety minutes per day for eighteen weeks. Frequently, students concentrate on one or two areas of study during a typical summer school session.


Summer school enrichment classes are offered in a variety of designs. Some programs follow the same format as remedial programs, only they are designed to assist a student in accelerating their learning during the condensed period of time. Other programs emphasize a particular curricular area, such as science, a second language, or a particular performing or visual art form. These programs are often offered in a camp-type format, and in many cases they are located at an actual camp.

Other enrichment programs are developed in cooperation between a local school system and a college or university. These programs are usually offered on the college or university campus and emphasize an area of strength for the individual student. In a large number of cases, the college or university curriculum is taught.

Private enterprises deliver other forms of summer enrichment programs. These programs generally provide students with accelerated or enriched opportunities to explore a variety of curricular areas. The programs emphasize learning as an enjoyable activity and provide each student with an experience that is designed to create a desire to learn for the sake of learning.

Extended-Year for Students with Special Needs

Under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), each student with special needs must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). A team consisting of parents, school personnel, support personnel, and, usually, the student develops this plan. IEPs frequently call for an extended-year program to be implemented during the summer months. Because each IEP addresses individual goals for a particular student, each program is intended to be designed to meet the unique needs of that student.

Extended-year programs for students with special needs may take a variety of forms. The program may emphasize the continuation of the overall specific goals established for the student; it may emphasize one or more areas where special attention is needed to meet a particular goal; it may serve as a transition from one setting to another; or it may serve a student who needs the continuity of a structured program to avoid the loss of skills and knowledge due to a prolonged break in attendance. An extended-year program may duplicate the design described earlier for students who need remediation in a particular area of study. In all cases, the program is designed to meet the individual needs of the student.

The History of Summer School

The traditional school calendar in the United States was heavily influenced by the needs of an agrarian society. Since the late spring, summer, and early fall were critical for farming families, school was not in session during these months. As a result, the school calendar traditionally ran from late fall through early spring, when there was less work to do on the farms. This pattern set the groundwork for the development of summer school.

As the nation transformed from an agrarian society to an industrialized society, education changed in many ways, but the traditional nine-to ten-month calendar remained intact. There have been many attempts to alter the traditional agrarian-based calendar, most notably by the advocates of year-round education (YRE), but none have caused widespread national change. As a result, summer has remained a time for vacation, relaxation, and an occasional summer school session.

Sputnik and the civil rights movement. The role of summer school in American education is a history of changing expectations. As society has changed, so has the role of summer school. On October 4, 1957, the launch of Sputnik I by the Soviet Union changed the world, and American education, forever. A national panic ensued as the country came to grips with its first defeat in the great space race of the 1950s and 1960s. Mathematics and science education became a priority of policymakers and educators. Summer school began to have an increased role in this movement. Students were encouraged to strengthen their mathematics and science skills through increased study. Federal funding became available to create accelerated mathematics and science programs, many of which were delivered in summer school sessions.

As the country became fully involved in the space race, the civil rights movement of the 1960s had an increased impact on education. Schools were seen more and more as institutions to enact social change, and summer schools were expanded to meet this need.

The 1983 publication of A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform by the National Commission on Excellence in Education had a profound impact on education. This report contended that the American educational system was inadequate and needed repair. It called for a movement it labeled the new basics, meaning a return to traditional academic standards. As schools began to re-structure in the wake of this report, more and more summer school programs were implemented to meet the new demand for a return to traditional learning.

During the 1990s there was an increased demand for school accountability. Student test scores were frequently used as the measure of the effectiveness of individual schools and school districts. Students who had substandard test scores were often encouraged, if not required, to attend summer school to make up their deficiencies.


There are two basic methods of funding summer school. One is through public funding. Schools receive funds from a variety of other governmental taxation sources, such as property taxes, sales taxes, and state run lotteries. Summer school programs are provided funding through these revenues, either on a per-pupil basis or through a lump sum allocation. In either case, funding is usually supplemental and separate from the regular funding dollars. These programs, run by public schools, are a part of the free public education system.

In many other summer school programs the participants pay a fee to cover the costs of the program. These programs are generally operated by private enterprises; however, there are cases where public institutions assess a fee for a summer program that is considered supplemental.

Issues Trends and Controversies

As stated earlier, the role of summer school has had a changing mission, depending on the current trends in society at any given time. Summer school has come to be seen as an excellent tool to deliver added emphasis to popular movements. The 1950s and the 1980s saw summer school as an answer to low academic achievement; the 1960s saw summer school as an opportunity to solidify social change; and the 1990s saw summer school as a tool to implement accountability in students and schools.

Advocates of extended-year calendars and year-round education argue that the school calendar, based on the needs of an agrarian society, has outlived its usefulness. They advocate the elimination of the summer vacation, thus ending the need for summer school.

Other researchers have shown that students evidence a profound loss of retention over the summer months, especially those students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. There is a school of thought, moreover, that questions the value of summer school programs and cites a lack of research showing positive student achievement as a result of participation in a summer school program.

Throughout the history of summer school there have been advocates for requiring low-achieving students to attend summer school. The controversy surrounding this issue runs deep and points to a deeper philosophical argument regarding the overall purpose of American schooling. As long as there is disagreement on this purpose, there will be disagreement on the purpose and role of summer school.

Summer school is as much an American institution as is American education itself. Its development has mirrored the development of an educational system that has struggled to keep pace with the changing demands of a changing society. Summer school has met a variety of needs and will continue to change with our changing society.


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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION. 1993. Summer Challenge: Model Summer Programs for Disadvantaged Students. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.


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