Finding ways to rescue failing public school students requires innovation. And for the second year in a row, Pinellas County schools are trying a new approach. The district's six-week summer Algebra Boot Camp will target ninth grade students who struggle with math and should give them a better chance of success. But the district also needs to consider broader changes during the school year that could reduce this need for remediation.
The new math boot camp is targeting incoming high school freshman who will take Algebra 1 in the fall. Last year, only 34 percent of ninth graders passed the end-of-course algebra exam, a requirement for graduation, far below the statewide average of 52 percent. The passage rate was even lower for Pinellas students who took algebra in higher grades. Under the boot camp curriculum, each student would spend three hours a day studying algebra with a combination of teacher and computer instruction. Organizers want at least 25 students from each of Pinellas' 17 high schools to participate, especially those who performed poorly on the math section of the FCAT. The program is also open to all ninth graders who have not taken Algebra 1.
The boot camp comes on the heels of Summer Bridge, a program launched last year to engage low-performing elementary and middle school students during the summer, when learning loss typically occurs. More than 6,000 students eventually signed up for the program, which focused on reading, writing, math and science. According to the district, 217 Summer Bridge students in kindergarten to third grade were promoted to the next grade level. Another 53 percent showed improvement in reading. And more than 70 percent of elementary students posted gains in math and science. Already, 5,000 students have signed up for this summer's program.
Raising the skill level of underperforming students is hard work. But with attention and commitment, struggling students can improve. And under Superintendent Mike Grego, the Pinellas County School District is taking another step in the right direction by focusing on students with a demonstrated need in a single subject area and setting them up for success. That remediation is crucial to individual students and parents, and students should avail themselves of the opportunity. But the district should also not forget to consider if other changes in instruction earlier in students' careers could improve success.