Thursday, April 2, 2015

Scholars just circling and circling the drain

Our B word for today in the A-Z blog challenge is “brain drain.”

No, I’m not talking about how much dumber you feel after you watch an episode of “Real Housewives of… Anything.”  Brain drain is actually a real phenomenon, and I include it in my list of buzzwords because it’s pretty accurate in its description.

We all know that students tend to lose some of the knowledge they gained over the school year during summer break.  Brain drain is how much they lose.  Some students lose everything they learned, assuming they learned anything in the first place. 

Research shows that brain drain correlates with socioeconomic status.  Middle and upper-class kids lose less because their parents are generally more invested in making sure their kids do things over the summer that have educational value.  So they go to summer camp, special tutoring or athletic programs or sessions, or they enroll in internships.  Poor kids typically either stay home and watch tv or watch younger siblings.  Are these stereotypes?  Yes.  Are they true?  Yes again.

There are many poorer students who can avoid brain drain.  Often students who fail a class or standardized tests are required to come to summer school in order to move on.  While you might think that summer school would help students retain their knowledge, think again.  Some students do choose to come in for certain programs that help them get a leg up or be part of a special academic group.  But those students don’t suffer from brain drain. 

At each school where I’ve taught, low-achieving students have summer school as their backup plan.  They have no incentive to pass because they know they can go to summer school, which doesn’t go all summer.  It’s usually 2-4 weeks. 

Teachers who need the extra money or who aren’t burned out usually teach summer school.  Lazy students love it because classes are shorter and their friends are there.  They can hang out, get fed, do as little as possible, be hand-held through class, still get credit and pass.  No school wants to fail a kid who attended summer school.  Those who fail the STAAR can try again, but most likely still will not pass it.  However, this won’t keep them from moving up a grade.  It will only keep them from graduating. 

The idea of summer school would have killed me when I was in school.  Who wants to come in again and waste the summer trying to pass?  But students now think it’s no big thing.  I was trying to work with one of my remediation students and help him understand that if he didn’t pass, he’d have to show up again in June.

“Oh, it’s cool, Ms. M,” he assured me.  “Summer school’s cool.”

I squinted at him.  “You LIKE to come in and have more school?”

“It’s fun.  My homies are there, and the classes are way easier.  My mom likes it too because I’m not hanging around the house.  You should come!  You’d like it!”

I’m not surprised his mom liked it.  She probably assumed he was getting in some extra academic hours, which would help him better understand the material and give him an edge the next year.  But I doubt I would.  Brain drain, indeed.  We reward students who don’t try with just what they want.  Who has the brain drain?