Shaped: Is the year-round schooling idea an effect of the pandemic or were we always going in that direction?
Dan: A lot of districts are already moving in that direction. We always talk about the loss of learning that happens over summer vacation. Teachers would spend the majority of September catching up the students to where they were when they left school in June. Year-round school minimizes that summer learning loss.
There are a lot of districts that want to move in this direction, but there's the issue of teacher contracts, not to mention pushback from families and kids. Still, there are districts that have implemented year-round programs. When I was a superintendent in Fairfax County (Virginia), we basically had four semesters of 10 weeks a piece. That's how the time was chunked out—a couple of weeks off in between semesters. It's a very effective way of doing it.
Shaped: You mentioned that many students have been absent from remote learning. Do you have any advice for administrators on how to track down absent kids and get them into summer school?
Dan: That’s definitely a huge concern right now. There's a significant decline in enrollment. How do you get to them? Districts are going to have to make home visits.
The welfare of students is important, but it's also important to the district because aid is based on enrollment. If a district has 10% fewer students, that's a 10% cut in their budget for both state and federal funding. Hopefully the package that's before Congress right now will help to provide districts with the dollars they'll need to reach out to these students, find them, and bring them back into the flow.
Shaped: What role will social-emotional learning play in summer school this year?
Dan: There's greater concern over the social-emotional effect of the pandemic on children than there is over learning loss. Kids will catch up. They have a whole lifetime to catch up. It's not like they can never recover. The social-emotional issues, though, are different. We've seen a significant increase in suicide rates. We've seen a significant increase in drug usage. We've seen a significant increase in students who have emotional issues as a result of this.
So the higher priority should be addressing students' wellbeing before getting into the academics. Many districts are working to provide training so that teachers first start off with, “How's it going for you? What's happening? How can we support you?”
Shaped: What do we know about the effect of COVID learning loss on students?
Dan: We’ve already seen that learning loss in reading and in math has been significant. Consider the millions of students who don’t have the technology or internet access at home to participate in remote learning. This group likely has the largest loss of learning. And students of color have been greatly impacted, either because they were not receiving any kind of remote instruction, or if they were, the quality of the instruction wasn't effective. Many of our students who are low-performing academically are the ones who are less likely to do well with remote learning. For them, remote learning is a bigger obstacle in terms of their ability to progress at the pace that we would hope for.
Shaped: Should administrators be on the lookout for particular teaching resources and assessments to address learning loss?
Dan: Here's the critical point that may, I hope, have an impact on education going forward. There’s a lot of talk about accountability and testing, but the reality is that statewide standardized tests do nothing to inform instruction. Teachers are going to have to give diagnostic tests that will show what every child has mastered and where that child needs to be caught up. That's a whole different form of testing. That's not testing for accountability; that's testing to inform instruction. That's going to be a critical component of summer programs because every child’s learning loss is going to be different. Every teacher is going to have to know exactly where Johnny is in terms of reading, math, or any other subject.
Shaped: Do schools have these diagnostic assessments on hand or will they have to prepare for this?
Dan: Some districts may already have contracts with assessment providers. But if they don't, that's something that they're going to have to get. And I think that's going to be part of the funding that districts will receive. They’ll be able to use those dollars to get the assessment instruments that are more diagnostic than the standardized tests that are just for accountability.