Our reasons for keeping the current school calendar – or at least something that resembles the current calendar – are old-fashioned. For example: A workforce required for seasonal businesses and farms, summer camps, important extracurricular activities and family vacations.
But other, less traditional or nostalgic, issues also exist, such as union contracts and teacher shortages. In a state where teachers are needed, will a longer school year exacerbate the problem?
So no, we do not favor year-round school in North Dakota, even as state K-12 Superintendent Kirsten Baesler and some lawmakers begin early discussions about a possible extended school year to help students regain education losses brought by the pandemic’s disruption. Baesler testified last week at a committee hearing of the House Appropriations Education and Environmental Division. At present, it’s unknown whether the proposed changes would be for this year or for future years.
Baesler noted that test scores have dropped in the state; about 28% of students who tested on par with their grade level in fall 2019 tested below their grade level in fall 2020 in reading, writing and math, Baesler said, as reported by Forum News Service.
It has created a learning gap, even greater than the “summer slide,” which for years has been studied and which is cited by proponents of an expanded school year.
Data show that during a long absence from school, students forget some of the lessons they have learned. And the summer slide isn’t just about the Three R’s – some kids don’t have access to healthy meals during extended breaks, for instance.
We don’t doubt that the pandemic has created a new slide. It’s inevitable that some students will struggle without face-to-face learning, which is so important to the process.
However, the summer slide itself is being reassessed, including a study by Texas education researcher Paul von Hippel, who said the theory of the summer slide – that students regress during long breaks – cannot be proved.
In a 2019 piece he wrote for the website Education Next, von Hippel notes that the source data for initial studies on the subject is three decades old and that testing processes have dramatically changed since then.
He originally was a believer in the summer slide, but “my belief has been shaken. I’m no longer sure that the average child loses months of skills each year, and I doubt that summer learning loss contributes much to the achievement gap in ninth grade,” he wrote.
Of course, von Hippel’s report came prior to the pandemic and discussed the slide only in its traditional sense.
It’s possible schools will need some sort of extension to get education righted after the pandemic. We see it as a slight lengthening of the school year and shorter – or eliminated – breaks, and not a summer spent in classrooms.
If it does occur, it should only be a temporary initiative to get students back on track, and not a permanent move that would reduce North Dakota’s traditional summer break.