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Global education lessons: Canadian summer school transcends remedial

Ontario's summer school for all students reduces summer learning loss.

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Imranga Alijanov uses an iPad to solve math problems with his rising second-grade classmates.

Johan Hallberg Campbell/Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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Primed to perform, five middle school girls take their positions like dots on dice: four at each corner, the tallest in the center. In time to music, they carry invisible loads, push against air, wield imaginary shovels. Then the tall girl falls to the ground, while the others crouch around her. When the girl rises, arms raised in triumph, one of her classmates claps.

This work-in-progress explores the issue of child labor during drama/dance class at Dr. Marion Hilliard Senior Public School. This doesn't look like an English class, but the dancers' task is to select and impart information – through the same principles used when writing an essay – by relating a progression of ideas, and establishing a connection with the audience.

The class is part of a free, public summer program initiated this year by the Continuing Education Department (CED) of the Toronto District School Board.

Studies have shown that children from lower-income families disproportionately lose ground over the summer, putting them further behind as the school year resumes.

This is especially worrisome in the United States, where one-third of fourth-graders perform below basic reading levels and more than a quarter perform below basic level in math, according to the 2011 "Nation's Report Card," published by the US Department of Education. Summer learning loss is hardly something they can afford.

Even so, 90 percent of American summer school programs are remedial classes. This does nothing to help prevent students who barely passed into the next grade from running into problems down the line.

In Toronto, on the other hand, the CED required schools to develop summer curricula that addressed the needs of C and D students, but insisted the programs be open to all. The curricula are decidedly not remedial: They reflect a successful literacy and numeracy strategy that, since its establishment in 2004, has raised student scores, slowed teacher turnover, and reduced the percentage of very-low-performing schools from almost 20 percent to less than 5 percent.

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