School Summer Project

We are into the school summer vacation here in Texas. It’s nice for everybody to get a break from the daily grind of the school year – both for the kids as well as the parents.

Sometime in the last few years or decades, the school system has started a program to give the high school kids summer homework projects. Depending on which classes the kids sign up for, they may or may not get one. My kids seem to get them every year.

My older daughter will be a junior this fall and her summer assignment was to annotate the “The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck. Basically this means critically analyzing the book, and highlighting different categories and topics according to the assignment.

Here is a picture of one page of the book when she got finished with the annotating:

After annotating the book, the rest of the assignment was to log into a school purchased special database set up by the Gale Group and find and print some additional literature-related documents and do some further analysis on these. Problem was you could not get into the database without going down to the school and logging in through the library. They don’t have things quite set up yet it seems. Can’t use Google, has to be their database.

I think it’s critical to a good education that students be exposed to analytical thinking. I also think they need to read lots and lots of fine literature from many authors and across lots of genres. Finding and analyzing data are also much needed skills to have.

My question about all this, and the reason for this post, is I wonder what the point of the summer project is. In my experience I don’t know another parent who thinks it is a good idea. So much do the kids not want to do them that it encourages a lot of copying and and cheating two days before the fall term begins. It’s been proven that the state of education in America is in decline, and I’m not sure there is any data to show that these summer projects are worth while.

Recently posted in another blog was an entry about how Finnish students are some of the top testing students in the world, with a link to the original (and quite remarkable) article in the Wall Street Journal.

In Finland:

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules.

According to the article, the US is studying some of what the Finnish do in their schools.

I don’t know what the answer is, but as a parent it is frustrating to watch my kids struggle with this, and encourage them at the same time I feel it is useless and wrong to load up their summer this way. We never had this when I was a student, and at that time the US was still ranking quite highly across the world.

Of course, the summer project is not the cause of all the problems of the US education system, but for us it is representative of where things are heading – spending more money and doing more work for less results.

Sometimes it feels like the only thing they are really learning how to do is to get used to the idea of working while on vacation like so many adults in the US do…

Anyway, I would like to hear what other people think about this. Please feel free to add your comments below.

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5 thoughts on “School Summer Project

  1. For my advanced placement class, my students have summer reading. But it sounds as though the work that your daughter is doing is very much college-appropriate work! Before I gave my students their summer reading, I held a seminar for them and gave them background, handouts, model essays and samples of what it is I wanted them to do. I think that the teacher just needs to consider the availability of the Gale stuff and save it for during the year, when frequent trips to the library will be the norm. Having it be this annoying thing that causes inconvenience to the entire family is not supposed to be the goal of the summer project. I think that the teacher just needs to consider that students should also have a break, while not leaving their minds completely dormant over the summer. As much as that teacher looks forward to summer, students look forward to summer as well.

  2. …sounds like crap to me. What 17-year old wants to do homework over the summer? What happens if they just do not do the assignment – 3 months of detention?

  3. No, they don’t receive detention. The Advanced Placement course is listed as a college level course. It is basically trying to bridge the gap between high school work and college work. Since college work is usually independent in nature, the goal is to give students a taste of what the class will be expecting them to do before the summer ends. Most Advanced Placement classes are not allowed to be dropped once begun, so sometimes a sample assignment is given over the summer not only to jump start the classes for the year, but also to give them a chance to mull over the decision to join the class. It kind of separates the go-getters from the ho-hums. Since it is an advanced course, students are expected to understand what that means from the beginning–no hand-holding. Of course, there are also some educational goals involved, such as giving them a chance to apply analytical tools and show the teacher what they can do before the class starts so that they can compare their progress at the end.

    (to Sita) I have to say, though, your kid’s assignment probably wouldn’t be as annoying to her or you if it were not dependent on the “Gale” stuff. You may want to suggest to your teacher that she give students a packet of critical articles and have them simply comment on an online bulletin board.

  4. My kids get the summer assignments in the pre-AP courses as well. At our school you can drop AP courses.

    We also won’t know which teacher she got until the fall term, and when I called the school office they told me all the teachers are off contract for the summer and could not be contacted.

    We know at sign up time it is supposed to be like pre-college work, but I never had summer homework in college. It’s a big school, there’s a team of teachers that pick all the assignments so it would be very rare for one teacher to break away from the pack and do something logical like just hand out the extra reading assignments – but I think one of the goals of the project was the research angle.

    The go-getters from the ho-hums should have already been sorted out in the pre-AP classes. But my point is, this is different than sorting out the go-getters – this just makes kids hate school.

    My daughter tells me she is not sure how it is graded as far as how much of a grade the project represents. She thought it was a major test grade, but maybe it is equivalent to 2 quizzes. You would get a 0 (zero) if you didn’t do the assignment.

    “The Grapes of Wrath”, yes, no offense John Steinbeck and John Steinbeck fans but it has to be one of the most boring, long classics you can find. Last year the assignment was a choice between reading “Friday Night Lights” and some other equally-youth-oriented-really-easy-and-quite-possibly- interesting-to-teens-title. (can’t remember the name of the other title).

    Thanks for all your comments everybody.

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