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Educators Consider Extending School Schedule Into The Summer


How can schools come back from so many months of remote learning? Most American students are still going into the classroom a few days per week or not at all. Anya Kamenetz of NPR's education team has been asking what schools can do as they prepare for the possibility of better times. Good morning.


INSKEEP: First, how much have students fallen behind?

KAMENETZ: So there's not great data. But McKinsey, the consultants, estimate that with all these interruptions, students might lose between five to nine months of learning this year. And that's not everyone across the board.

INSKEEP: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Five to nine months? The school year is nine months. Are they saying that for some students, this year is a dead loss?

KAMENETZ: Well, that's the implication. You know, some students are actually regressing without the intensive targeted help that school can provide. So, you know, there are lots of ideas already for trying to not only compensate, but actually even reimagine school for all the students that weren't being served that well even before all of this. And so the Biden transition team invited some education advocacy groups, including a group called the National Parents Union, and one of their top asks for the new administration is something called acceleration academies. So this is Keri Rodrigues from the National Parents Union.

KERI RODRIGUES: We want to hear about acceleration academies, learning academies, summer school - ending this idea that the school year ends in June this year.

KAMENETZ: So they want, essentially, extra class time. And Rodrigues said the start of the extra learning session could be pegged to the vaccination of teachers maybe.

RODRIGUES: If June is when every K-12 educator gets vaccinated, guess what? July 1 is the first day of school.

INSKEEP: OK, so thinking of it as if the school year is just starting super, super, super late. Is that summer school idea going to fly?

KAMENETZ: Well, obviously this would cost money, extra money. But there are definitely school leaders talking about it, district leaders, even teacher unions. And actually, this was piloted this past summer. There were several nonprofits around the country that did intervene with small programs that did show success, even virtually.

And the reason they're called acceleration academy, Steve, and not just summer school was this highly structured tutoring. This is something that's shown great results in experiments, especially in elementary school reading. So someone is trained and supported to be a tutor. The sessions are five days a week, quite intensive. They're one-to-one or very small groups. And what's interesting is, you know, if you're thinking about recent college graduates, this would also be a jobs program as well, assuming you have the money.

INSKEEP: Oh, interesting. Well, what else is on the table?

KAMENETZ: So this is so important. Everybody I talked to talked about this - our children's social and emotional needs, you know, making schools feel as welcoming as possible, especially for students on the margin, special needs, mental health issues, they're Black or brown or LGBTQ - making sure they have the services that they need. I checked in with an organization called Student Voice that's been holding virtual listening tours with high school students. And they really want students to have a voice in this recovery. And a lot of them talked about, you know, the social and political upheavals of the last 12 months, not just the pandemic.

This is Jenna Yuan. She works for Student Voice, and she's a student herself.

JENNA YUAN: Regardless of whether they return to the school building or they continue to be online, their school experience is never going to go back to normal, nor was normal something that worked for all students, even before the pandemic.

KAMENETZ: So seeing this as an opportunity for change.

INSKEEP: OK. Anya, thanks so much.

KAMENETZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Anya Kamenetz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHIGETO'S "A CHILD'S MIND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.