Increased summer school opportunities, especially for elementary school students, are the most promising avenue to address the extremely negative influence of the coronavirus-induced school closings on students’ educational performance.
Irrespective of the arguments for or against school closings, there is no question they are having and have had a large and detrimental effect on students — especially disadvantaged and younger students. Many students in California and locally will have lost a year or more of regular, in-class instruction by the time schools reopen on a standard basis either this spring or even as late as the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.
It is unnecessary to critique or criticize the effectiveness of online school programs during the past nine months. It is enough to observe that — despite the best intentions of many school administrators and teachers — these programs have in no way been a substitute for regular, in-class instruction.
Online programs were implemented in a necessarily rushed, ad hoc, and improvised manner. Neither teachers nor parents, nor students, were ready for online instruction. In no way has the instruction that many students have received during the past nine months been equivalent to the program they would have obtained had school remained in session.
The purpose here, again, is not to criticize or critique online programs. It is just to acknowledge that they have been much less for many students than standard, in-class instruction.
For this reason, it is vital and necessary to begin to think about what can be done to catch students up for the learning they have lost. It is not too much to say that many students later in this school year or at the start of the 2021-22 school year will be behind where they were when schools closed in March 2020. Students who will be particularly impacted include students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
Unquestionably, the best approach to address the educational shortcomings that many students will experience will be increased summer school instruction. Currently, summer school is a very restricted program in most schools — typically fewer than one in 10 students participate. As a result of COVID-19, there is no reason this number should not increase greatly, especially for elementary students and students performing below grade level.
Educational research demonstrates that summer school is the most effective intervention to raise student performance.
Typically, the educational performance gap increases the most during the summer. Children from higher socioeconomic families typically have opportunities that continue their cognitive development when school is not in session. These opportunities are not as significant for students from families with lesser means.
The clear answer — confirmed by educational research — is that high quality summer schools of sufficient length in weeks and duration in hours benefit lower socioeconomic students more than any other intervention in ordinary circumstances. In the situation of the year-long school closings associated with COVID-19, increased summer school opportunities are essential and perhaps the only way to protect the lifetime prospects of disadvantaged students in particular.
Summer school is inexpensive to operate. The facilities are already there. Usually teachers who are at an earlier phase in their career provide instruction at an affordable hourly rate. Their benefits are already paid for. Administration of summer schools is usually provided by teachers who seek to be principals someday, so summer school is also an excellent opportunity for career development.
School districts locally and throughout the state and nation should seek to double, triple, and quadruple the size of their summer school programs in the coming years. Only increased summer school can repair the damage to students’ education caused by the Coronavirus.
Joe Armendariz and Lanny Ebenstein