Should we start next school year early, and make it longer?

Altering school calendars could narrow achievement gaps

Starting the 2020-21 school year early and lengthening the calendar into next summer may be the best way to provide equity for students and narrow achievement gaps that have widened during coronavirus closures, according to a Duke University education expert

During a typical summer, almost all students lose some degree of math learning.

But when it comes to reading, middle-class students generally maintain their skills while their lower-income classmates tend to fall behind, said Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience who researches homework, summer school and after-school programs.

The impact of a long summer break and a longer pandemic break is going to further aggravate achievement gaps based on ethnicity and income, Cooper said Wednesday during a Duke University webinar series on the pandemic’s impacts on education and society.

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“Think about a child who comes from a family of limited means whose parents don’t speak English,” Cooper said. “Their experience with online learning is going to be very different from a student who has a desktop with a 40-inch screen on a well-resourced desk, with a parent who can hover around and come in when needed to point something out.”

Rather than allowing students to return in June or July, before it may be safe in some regions, states and districts should move up start dates for next school year.

Students could resume learning in August where they left off when schools shut down, and progress to the next grade in about four weeks, Cooper said.

“It gives teachers an opportunity to see where kids are and get them up to speed,” Cooper said. “Maybe it doesn’t take six weeks to recoup six weeks of instruction because some things have been learned at home.”

Extending the school year will, of course, increase costs during a time when school budgets are likely to get cut.

“It’s an investment in a child’s and a state’s future that might be incredibly important—the results of which might not see for many years,” Cooper says. “But the traditional school calendar doesn’t fit the way most Americans live today. It’s an anachronism they may work for some communities but others may consider different patterns of school attendance.”

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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