Only one month into the COVID-19 pandemic, journalist Bethany Mandel published the highly relevant Distance Learning Isn’t Working, and it struck a chord with readers. Mandel seemed to be one of the first to say what was on everyone’s mind in a public forum since nationwide lockdowns started. It is a fair assessment of the nationwide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Why would we have expected schools to succeed in moving to a learning medium in which the vast majority of its teachers are not trained? Why would we have expected state and local administrators to have a backup plan for a pandemic? Don’t get me wrong, states, districts, and schools have worked tirelessly with positivity to make this work for our students. This pandemic provides another great example of the importance of our educators. However, like Mandel’s column highlights, we must face a tough reality–all students will need to make up for learning lost as a result of COVID-19.
When administrators recognized COVID-19 would impact their schools over the long-term, one common topic of discussion was extended learning opportunities including summer school, extended school day, afterschool programs, and year-round schooling. Many of the early responses by administrators were related to extended learning opportunities as a means to make up for the COVID-19 achievement gap.
However, with summer schooling in 2020 still in question due to the pandemic, other conversations mention extended school days and increased investment in after school programs. Kidron and Lindsay (2014) found positive impacts of extended learning opportunities at the elementary level, for certain student subgroups (i.e., students with ADHD), and only when certified teachers led the classrooms. Implementing extended school days could add an hour or two each school day to provide more instructional time for students, which could be a temporary fix to make up for the hours lost due to the pandemic.
States, districts, or schools may consider expanding afterschool current offerings, making more purposeful connections with existing afterschool programs in the community, or beginning afterschool programs using programs or practices that have been shown to be successful in closing achievement gaps. Neild, Wilson, and McClanahan (2019) found more than 60 afterschool programs that had positive impacts on students across all grade levels and subject areas. Administrators can consult with resources like this to consider the afterschool program that may best address their students’ needs and context.
The last extended learning opportunity to consider is year-round schooling, which does not add instructional time, but rather reallocates the academic year across the entire calendar year with shorter breaks between terms. The research evidence on year-round schooling is mixed with some reporting null or negative effects (McMullen & Rouse, 2011; The Stark Education Partnership, 2018). Other studies report that year-round schooling can make up for summer learning loss (Fitzpatrick & Burns, 2019). Year-round schooling could be a useful solution for struggling students (Fitzpatrick & Burns, 2019; Johnson & Wagner, 2017) or for school overcrowding (Dessoff, 2011; Graves, McMullen, & Rouse, 2013) As a result, educational leaders seeking to transition to year-round schooling should review the research to identify characteristics of successful year-round schooling programs and should seek to develop programs that align to those characteristics.
Like many educators, I see opportunities within obstacles. Often, extended learning opportunities have been seen as too burdensome or too different to be practical solutions. However, unusual circumstances require unusual solutions. A unifying recommendation amongst all extended learning research is to ensure there is a strong fit between the program and the agency’s need. Whichever solution states, districts, and schools choose to pursue, they should do so ensuring they have the capacity and resources to implement evidence-based practices with fidelity. Only then, will they see the results they hope to see. I know educators are resilient and creative. I look forward to seeing some of the creative solutions that will come out of this trying time and helping to share successful stories with other educators around the country.
Joshua A. Melton, firstname.lastname@example.org
Evaluation, Region 7 Comprehensive Center
Research Associate, RMC Research Corporation
Special thanks to the R7CC Summer Slide Task Force team (Dr. Sheila Brookes, Dr. Rachel Goins, and Ms. Katherine Harmon) for their support and feedback.
Dessoff, A. (2011). Is year-round schooling on track? District Administration, 47, pp. 34-36, 40-41.
Fitzpatrick, D., & Burns, J. (2019). Single-track year-round education for improving academic achievement in U.S. K-12 schools: Results of a meta-analysis. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 15, 1-28. doi: 10.1002/cl2.1053
Graves, J., McMullen, S., & Rouse, K. (2013). Multi-track year-round schooling as a cost saving reform: Not just a matter of time. Education Finance and Policy, 8, 300-315. doi: 10.1162/EDFP_a_00097
Johnson, O., & Wagner, M. (2017). Equalizers or enablers of inequality? A counterfactual analysis of racial and residential test score gaps in year-round and nine-month schools. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 674, 240-261. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b070/8880f1488e19ef41bce72546e41390e436b5.pdf?_ga=2.213343376.563033910.1587719253-1654213861.1587485137
Kidron, Y., & Lindsay, J. (2014). The effects of increased learning time on student academic and nonacademic outcomes: Findings from a meta-analytic review (REL 2014-015). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Education Laboratory Appalachia. Retrieved from https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/edlabs/regions/appalachia/pdf/REL_2014015.pdf
Mandel, B. (2020, April 20). Distance learning isn’t working. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/04/just-give-distance-learning/610222/
McMullen, S., & Rouse, K. E. (2011). The impact of year-round schooling on academic achievement: Evidence from mandatory school calendar conversations. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 4, 230-252. doi: 10.1257/pol.4.4.230
Neild, R. C., Wilson, S. J., & McClanahan, W. (2019). Afterschool programs: A review of evidence under the Every Student Succeeds Act. Philadelphia, PA: Research for Action. Retrieved from https://www.wallacefoundation.org/knowledge-center/Documents/Afterschool-Programs-A-Review-of-Evidence-Under-the-Every-Student-Succeeds-Act.pdf
The Stark Education Partnership (2018). Using a balanced school year to improve student achievement. Retrieved from https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED594427.pdf