March 1, 2021

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Longer days and Saturday classes: States explore costly ways to heal learning loss

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Educators and state policymakers say recovering from a year of disrupted class time will be costly and time-consuming.

A group of governors and state education officials are pressing schools to lengthen their days, boost summertime instruction and upgrade tutoring in the coming months to help offset the pandemic’s toll on learning.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam suggested year-round schooling for his state earlier this month. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey dedicated part of his Jan. 11 “State of the State” address to call for longer school days and one-on-one tutoring. In Alabama, some school districts may add 20 days to the 2021-22 school year, bulk up summer and after-school programs, and possibly launch Saturday classes for select middle and high schoolers.

Educators and state policymakers say recovering from a year of disrupted class time will be costly and time-consuming, and local governments may not be able to fully finance ambitious recovery plans themselves. Though schools have already received billions in federal dollars over the course of the past year to cover Covid costs, advocates say more is needed, putting pressure on President Joe Biden to quickly push his proposed $1.9 trillion stimulus package through Congress.

A December analysis from McKinsey & Company concluded American students could lose on average five to nine months of learning by the end of June. Analysts concluded that students of color could be six to 12 months behind by that time, compared with four to eight months of lost learning for white students.

“Sometimes a storm really hits, and it demolishes buildings and it takes literally years to rebuild a community or a town. That’s what we’re in now,” said Eric Mackey, Alabama’s state superintendent of education.

“This is not the kind of thing where we’re going to come out of the cellar, pick up a few sticks, and life is going to go back to normal,” he said. “This is going to take a long time.”

For now, states are turning to a mix of federal and local funding as they lay out plans to support struggling students.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee this week summoned state lawmakers to a special legislative session meant to address plummeting reading and math proficiency rates.

Even before the pandemic, the state estimated just one-third of Tennessee third graders met expectations for reading at their grade level. Now the state education department is planning a new literacy program, backed by $100 million in federal stimulus and grant dollars, to make up the gap.

Lawmakers will also chew over a trio of bills pushed by Lee and state Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn that include a proposal to create after-school and summertime learning camps for at-risk younger students, build a statewide network of tutors and launch a pilot testing program to help teachers more frequently measure student learning.

“When we look at extending the school year and the school day, this is one version of that,” Schwinn said.

“We have not just an opportunity, but a responsibility to think five and seven years down the road,” she said. “We have to think about how we are going to accelerate, understanding that we have more challenges than ever before.”

In Illinois, state Education Superintendent Carmen Ayala urged administrators to consider longer school years and summer learning opportunities with their share of more than $2 billion in stimulus funding.

“Begin planning now to reimagine the school calendar and expand the school day to ensure students receive every opportunity to grow,” Ayala wrote to school leaders this month.

A bill introduced this month in the Washington state legislature also eyes federal money as a potential source of funding for a proposal to extend the school year at dozens of local school districts.

Recent calculations from the Education Resource Strategies nonprofit said a broad effort to address seven to eight months of lost learning time would cost between $12,000 and $13,500 per student over the course of five years. That could generate a price tag that swells well past $300 billion to reach about half the nation’s K-12 students.

“The fear here is that everyone’s thinking, ‘We’ll get it done this summer, and starting fall of next year, we’re good,’” said Michael Griffith, a senior researcher and analyst at the Learning Policy Institute. “When really, it’s greater lost learning than that. It’s something that, for a lot of kids, a summer can’t make up.”

Biden’s new stimulus pitch would send $130 billion to K-12 schools, plus another $5 billion governors could spend on elementary and high schools — and still more money for colleges and universities. His plan notes the aid could help pay for extended learning time, tutoring and counselors, though the dollars could also be spent on extra staff, technology or other expenses.

If approved — and that’s far from guaranteed — that money would bolster roughly $13 billion in aid for K-12 schools that Congress already set aside in the CARES Act this past spring, followed by another $54 billion in a second stimulus package approved before the end of last year.

So, in Alabama, officials are preparing for a long haul.

“I think we have to dig in and understand this is long-term. This is not something that’s going to be solved by this fall,” Mackey said. “I think we’ll be dealing with this in 2024.”

Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories https://www.politico.com/news/2021/01/25/states-covid-learning-loss-462383

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