PROVO — A new study by Brigham Young University suggests that summer school has lasting effects for younger elementary students.
The study, done by a BYU and a Harvard professor while they were in graduate school, said struggling third-graders who went to class in June and July instead of hitting the beach continued to improve academically for several years after attending summer school.
Lars Lefgren, now a BYU professor, and Brian Jacob, who teaches at Harvard, examined a program of Chicago public schools. In the program, children must reach a benchmark score on academic tests or they must attend summer school or repeat a grade.
The progress of students who failed the tests and went to summer school were then compared to students who barely passed the same test. The results showed that the students who attended summer school had an advantage over other students.
"There are so many programs in education that don't work, so sometimes it's nice to find one that does," Lefgren said.
The study, conducted in Chicago in 2000 and 2001, was published in the most recent issue of "Review of Economics and Statistics."
Utah educators could learn lessons from the Chicago-based study, Lefgren said.
"A lot of the kids that administrators are most worried about are struggling minority kids, more Latino than black in Utah," he said. "There are plenty of kids who have the same types of struggles with learning."
A similar program — called Standards and Benchmarks — has been started in Provo schools. Students struggling with passing classes attend summer school, as well as classes before, during and after school to help them earn necessary credits and improve grades.
"It's just a philosophy we have in our district that, in order to advance, students have to demonstrate proficiency with the things that we're learning," said Ray W. Morgan, a Provo school district official. "It's not just pass the class or we'll flunk you; it's if you don't pass the class, we want to help you be successful."
In Lefgren and Jacob's study, the sixth-grade Chicago students did not benefit as much from summer school as third-grade students, possibly because of the "dumbbell" social stigma attached to summer school, Lefgren said.
Provo's summer school, directed at older students, is seeing more participation, said Greg Hudnall, student services director.
"We have more and more kids taking it every year," he said. "When we first started, we didn't have that many. Kids are more motivated to make up their courses."
The research also could lead for extra funding for summer academic programs, Jacob said.
"We're spending so much money on education and starting new programs," he said. "It makes no sense to spend money without a rigorous effort to evaluate what's working and what's not."