Historically, summer has been seen as essential to give students a needed break from school for extended family time and outdoor fun. However, we need to think about this summer differently.
As desirable as a three-month summer break can be for students, teachers, and school staff, this year is different. The pandemic has negatively impacted student learning nationwide, and precious lost time must be recovered. There is no magic solution to combat the setback that spanned more than a full calendar year. But focused, high-quality learning time is required and must occur sooner rather than later if we are going to offset the lost learning. Our students can’t afford for this coming summer to be squandered away, void of serious academic learning.
Several states are addressing the challenge. In North Carolina, Governor Ray Cooper signed House Bill 82, which requires school districts to provide at least 150 hours of instruction and enrichment to students this summer. The bill allocates funding to districts to address potential roadblocks for families related to student transportation and lunch. While the mandate doesn’t go as far as to require students to attend summer sessions, districts must provide the service. At-risk students will be prioritized, but other students can attend if space remains available.
In New Mexico, the needed union support was garnered by offering longer school days instead of continuing through the summer months. Connecticut bypassed a battle with teacher unions altogether and created a summer recovery plan for students, which will utilize community-based nonprofit groups instead of district teachers.
Tennessee is not only ensuring students have avenues for learning this summer but is putting accountability measures in place. A new retention law would ensure that this year’s first graders meet benchmarks when they reach the time to progress from third to fourth grade. Forward-thinking Florida is considering Senate Bill 200, which would give parents the option of requesting their kindergarten through eighth grade students repeat the current grade.
With traditional summer break mere weeks away, timely action plans are of utmost importance. As we saw during the last year, the way in which private schools (and a few outlier public schools) tended to respond to the pandemic, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Those that remained open for full-time, in-person learning found a way to do so safely out of a driving passion for what’s best for students and their families. Conversely, the majority of public schools catered to the interests and excuses of teacher unions, keeping campuses closed, and only as of late have begun to provide in-person instruction in a limited capacity.
Research reveals that the usual summer break results in student learning loss. This year’s backslide could be catastrophic if added to the staggering learning loss that has already occurred due to school closures. This summer provides the opportunity to reverse that trend — making up 50-60 days of the standard 180-day school year.
Legislators and state education leaders need to get creative in customizing plans to serve their students better, making prudent use of the extensive provisional federal funding that’s available. We need to seize the opportunity in the coming summer months to make up for lost learning. It’s time to get going. Summer will be here before we know it, and for the sake of our students, we can’t have a repeat of last summer.