Baltimore City elementary students who regularly attended Teach Baltimore, a local summer school program, made significant academic gains this year, says a new Hopkins study.
Education researcher Geoffrey Borman has released the first-year results of a three-year longitudinal study that tracks the impact of Teach Baltimore, an academically intensive summer program that trains university students to provide eight weeks of summer reading and writing instruction to low-income Baltimore City elementary students. The study involves about 450 elementary school children from five different sites in high-poverty areas of the city.
Borman, a researcher at Hopkins' Center for Social Organization of Schools, says the results have implications for education policy-makers struggling with issues like year-round schooling, mandatory summer school and preventing what is called the "summer slide effect" for poor children. Research already has shown that low-income students tend to post achievement losses during the summer months, while more advantaged children make gains. The disparity is believed to occur primarily because children from middle- and upper-income families tend to have more books and reading opportunities over the summer than do children of low-income families. Since children in high-poverty neighborhoods tend to learn at the same rates during the school year as their more advantaged peers, these summer learning differences, compounded year after year, have been shown to be the primary cause of a progressively widening achievement gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children.
"While common sense suggests that summer instruction may help, strong evidence proving it is missing," says Borman. "Educators have developed very few strong, academically focused and replicable summer programs. Even fewer educators and researchers have designed quality studies of the academic effects associated with summer interventions, and no researchers have assessed the potential benefits of multiyear summer programs."
The study's first-year results show that students randomly assigned to Teach Baltimore performed, as a whole, moderately better than their control-group peers. But the students who followed through and actively participated in Teach Baltimore, attending 75 percent or more of program sessions, made significant gains. Among these students, the average Teach Baltimore kindergartner outscored 81 percent of similar control-group peers, and the average first-grade student outscored 64 percent of similar control-group students.
However, within the high-attending group, the scores of the most academically needy kindergarten and first-grade students did not improve as much as hoped. Borman believes the lack of improvement among these children could imply that they need specialized instruction beyond that which college-student volunteers, and many regular teachers, can provide.
"The true test, though, will be what happens over the next two summers," Borman says. "Because the goal of this multiyear program is to prevent children from falling farther and farther behind as they proceed through elementary school, our most interesting results are yet to come."
Founded in 1992 by Matt Boulay, then a Johns Hopkins senior and now a public elementary school teacher in New York City, Teach Baltimore has provided summer instruction to almost 1,100 Baltimore City public school students and has recruited and trained 179 college students from 20 institutions of higher education. Teach Baltimore now operates out of the university's Office of Volunteer Services and is run entirely by students and recent graduates.
The Teach Baltimore summer begins with two weeks of intensive training for the instructors, during which they become familiar with the curriculum and are introduced to quality lesson planning, behavior management and parent involvement. Two days after training ends, the eight-week program for students begins. The Teach Baltimore day starts with breakfast and three hours of intensive reading and writing instruction, followed by lunch and then an afternoon of hands-on science and mathematics activities, recreation, art and drama. Weekly afternoon field trips and cultural enrichment experiences include trips to the Washington Zoo, Port Discovery Children's Museum and other area attractions.
Borman's study is made possible through a grant from the Smith Richardson Foundation, Children and Families at Risk Program.