4 popular opinions: How will students “catch up?”

Last week we asked the question, “What will fall look like for public schools?” And this week, the opinions are out. 

According to one education advocacy group, four popular opinions have surfaced regarding how state and districts leaders will approach the coming academic year, with particular consideration on how to help all students “catch-up” from lost classroom time. 

As you may already know, 30 of the U.S. states and territories have ordered or recommended the cancellation of the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year and will not reconvene until the fall. The current school year was not entirely lost, but even with the significant strides and advances that many states and districts have made in providing a virtual and online home eduction for students, many still worry about the substantial impact that lost classroom instruction time will have on student learning. 

It goes without saying that traditional classroom instruction not only provides students with in-person interaction with curriculum and subject experts, but it also targets and develops certain learning skills and behaviors needed in the classroom that online schooling does not provide to students. But another concern alarms us. 

Many low-income and at-risk children who many experts say already have a higher-risk of lagging behind in grade-level expectations, such as Title I students and ELs, may fall farther behind during spring stay-at-home orders. We already know that such student groups are more susceptible to summer learning loss, otherwise know as “summer slide,” and that natural disasters can adversely affect academic performance and graduation rates. Additionally, because many state and benchmark assessments have been cancelled or postponed this spring, it is unlikely that we will know for some time the extent or severity of the COVID-19 learning loss. 

This is why one group is asking K-12 administrators, teachers, policymakers, and education advocates, “Once it is deemed safe for schools to reopen, what should states and districts do to help all students “catch-up” from lost classroom time?”

If you would like to give your opinion on the matter, I encourage you to take the short survey here. In the mean time, I’ve listed for popular opinions on what educators should do to help students “catch up” from time away from the classroom.

Opinion 1: Begin the 2020-21 school year with the next grade’s instruction.

Pros: No major disruptions to family or school schedules.

Cons: Ignoring 3 months of lost instruction time will harm students in the long run, creating gaps in knowledge that will get exponentially worse as time goes on.

Opinion 2: Begin the 2020-21 school year with April ’20 concepts.

Pros: No major disruptions to family or school schedules. Curriculum can be easily adjusted. The Arlington (VA) Assistant Superintendent writes that, “as part of our commitment to ensuring equity of access to new learning for all students, concepts that students would have normally learned during the fourth quarter will be introduced in September, at the start of the 2020-21 school year.”

Cons: How can 230 days of instruction be taught during a 180 day school year? Ensuring that students finish the school year having reviewed all grade level content would require more instructional hours. Teachers may be asked to teach content they are not familiar with.

Opinion 3: Offer parents/students an opportunity to repeat the present grade.

Pros: Florida Governor DeSantis has already offered that parents can decide if they want their children to repeat their present grade and education expert Mike Petrilli thinks it a good idea. He argues that students already 1-2 years behind should “remain in their current grade and, ideally, return to the familiarity of their current teacher.”

Cons: Expect a higher cost for states and districts if scores of parents/students choose to repeat grades. Unpredictable grade-level populations will make it difficult to ensure that teachers are staffed appropriately at the start of the school year.

Opinion 4: Keep schools open this summer and/or start the 2020-21 year early.

Pros: Education experts Andy Rotherham, Douglas Harris, and Dale Chu suggest students need summer instruction time. Andy writes this is “an unprecedented and remarkable situation in modern American education, but despite that, schools [should] live up to the warranties they make to students.”

Cons: Significant disruption to traditional family and school schedules. Expect a higher cost for states and districts.

Thank you for being an engaged Hispanic evangelical stakeholder and joining us in the ministry of advancing Hispanic student achievement. Please join us in prayer for our education leaders and for our students during these trying times. May God use this season to strengthen our education systems for the sake of our children.

Forward and higher in Christ, 

Rev. Girien R. Salazar
Executive Director, FE Coalition