Friday, September 25, 2020
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MoCo doubles down on summer learning loss

Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school district, has designated two Title I elementary schools, Arcola and Roscoe Nix, as “innovative schools,” where students will get an extra six weeks of school every year.

Year-round school calendar for two Montgomery Co. elementary schools

Specifically, they begin in the summer, right after the July Fourth holiday, about six weeks before students at other elementary schools in the district, and have a regular school year with four quarters after that.

“This early start reduces summer learning loss and gives students a jump-start on their school year, as they explore new concepts and connect with signature programs like Project Lead the Way,” the district writes on its website.

The only problem with that plan: it probably won’t work.

I actually find the district’s assertion that the extra six weeks will enable students to “explore new concepts and connect with signature programs like Project Lead the Way” condescending. If students weren’t doing these things already, we’ve got bigger problems than a shortage of school days.

But some students don’t think learning will benefit from the extended schedule either. Here’s what Ben Waldman had to write about the change in The Black & White, the student newspaper at Walt Whitman High School:

If MCPS continues the expanded schedules, there’s no doubt about what they’ll see: exhausted children, frazzled teachers, and a decrease in student achievement. To improve student learning, MCPS shouldn’t waste valuable resources on piloting an expanded schedule; they should focus on new ideas instead of blindly retesting old ones.

Mr Waldman cites extended-schedule attempts from Washington and Ohio, to India and Finland, all finding basically that spending more days in school doesn’t necessarily lead to greater student achievement.

Paul T von Hippel of the University of Texas, Austin, also focusing strictly on academic gains, wrote an extensive review of more recent research for Education Next.org, mostly agreeing with Mr Waldman.

In Finland, we know schools 20 years ago were similar to the schools in the US today, but we also know the government has increased support for the schools and built a world-class system of education, as Michael Moore explains in this video:

But school, especially for elementary students, especially for low-income families, is about much more than academic achievement. For families without any money to spare, school also delivers at least one good meal for every kid every weekday. And then students in elementary school also gain social skills at school, especially if their parents work two minimum-wage jobs and can barely stay afloat.

So even though Montgomery County promises academic gains that probably won’t be realized, almost to the exclusion of all other benefits of school for low-income families, I personally think the biggest challenge will be confronting student and teacher burnout with kids in the classrooms during every month of the calendar year. Sometimes we need a break.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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