It has been almost 3 months since Covid-19 closed schools across the nation. In this unprecedented time, it is hard to predict the long-term effects this pandemic will have on the education of our children and teens. What we can do is look at previous research and make a plan based on what is already known. Previous research suggests that summer programming is in order for those students with substantial learning loss due to the Covid 19 spring school closures.
In a brief published by NWEA Research, Drs. Megan Kuhfeld and Beth Tarasawa looked to past research on the effects of seasonal learning in an attempt to offer some insights into the possible effects this pandemic will have on reading and math retention over the summer. The research showed three consistent trends: 1. Achievement typically slows or declines over the summer, 2. Declines tend to be steeper in math than for reading, and, 3. The extent of learning loss increases for upper grades. This is referred to as the “Summer Slide.” Kuhfeld and Tarasawa anticipate that “Summer Slide” will be steeper this summer than in a typical year. To combat this summer learning loss, Kuhfeld and Tarasawa suggest that all families, regardless of financial need, must have access to digital materials and electronic resources to support their students’ learning.
Andre Perry, writing on the Hechinger Report website, offers a different perspective. He advocates for more than resources, suggesting universal summer school as the primary solution. According to Perry, the first step is to accept schooling as a part of the summer experience. He urges districts to be brave in their use of funds in order to pay educators to teach during the summer. Collective bargaining agreements need to be modified to allow schools to remain open. Resources should be mobilized to families in addition to mandatory summer school.
Our Demonstrated Success team agrees with both Perry and Drs. Kuhfeld and Tarasawa that summer learning is a must. We advocate that educators first identify those students that have shown the greatest learning loss, then, regardless of whether or not a student has an IEP, offer small, in-person, instructional sessions that run for 2-3 hours, and have no more than 8-10 students per session. Unified arts can be integrated into these sessions to increase engagement and support social and emotional health for these at risk students. School social workers and counselors can be present to provide triage to students and families. In addition, for all families, schools should offer virtual resources and 1-on-1 virtual support through zoom throughout the summer. Funding these interventions should take high priority when districts are utilizing funds received through the CARES Act.
Distance learning has been challenging for teachers as well as students. For many teachers, what they love most about teaching has been compromised this spring. They are feeling burnt out and bereft. Bringing small groups of students into school for summer instruction can serve to inspire staff as well as support students and families. Having students in front of them can help teachers to reignite their passion prior to facing the challenges of the 2020-21 school year.