Addressing “enormous” learning losses

Thomas Kane

A third alternative would be lengthening the school year for the next two years. Of course, districts would have to pay teachers, janitors, and bus drivers more, perhaps at time and a half, to work the extra weeks. But unlike with tutoring or double-dose math, districts already have the personnel, the buildings, the buses, the schedules. As long as educators, parents, and students view the extra instructional time as just an extension of the school year—like days added to make up for snow closures—the power of family and school routine will deliver higher attendance than summer school.

The primary problem with a longer school year is political, not logistical. After opposition from the local teachers’ union and some parents, the Los Angeles Unified School District was able to add only four optional days of school next year. This is, to be sure, more make-up time than many other school systems have planned, but quite inadequate given that the nation’s second-largest school district was remote for three-quarters of 2020–21.

I fear that, in areas where classrooms remained closed for long periods, school officials are not doing the basic math. High-dosage tutoring may produce the equivalent of 19 weeks of instruction for students who receive it, but is a district prepared to offer it to everyone? Alternatively, suppose that a school offers double-dose math for every single student and somehow convinces them to attend summer school, too. That, educational research suggests, would help students make up a total of 15 weeks of lost instruction. Even if every single student in a high-poverty school received both interventions, they would still face a seven-week gap.

Educational interventions have a way of being watered down in practice; many superintendents and school boards may tell themselves that they are taking a variety of steps to help students make up lost time. And yet most district plans are currently nowhere near commensurate with their students’ losses.