Despite the alarming level of pandemic-induced lost (or unfinished) learning, the American school system clings to the agrarian academic calendar that has been in use for more than 100 years. The most recent devastating NAEP results indicate that students are, on average, at least 5 months behind in math and 4 months behind in reading. Learning gaps were most pronounced in states with higher rates of remote instruction, which lead to a supposition that students may need to be physically present in school to learn effectively.
While many districts are attempting to address learning loss by providing “high-dosage tutoring ” or accelerated learning, they are still adhering to an academic calendar that includes anywhere from 160-180 school days. In fact, American students spend fewer days in school than those in most other technological societies. The world’s average is 200 to 220 days per year. Now, with the need so great, is the most opportune time to start to expand our school calendar. “Adding days to the current academic year and moving up the start of the next one would help, while also limiting the effects of summer learning loss, which can cause students to forget as much as 25% of what they learned the previous year.”
Some school districts are already experimenting with versions of year-round calendars. Last fall US Secretary of Education Cardona suggested that he would favor the possibility of changes to the school calendar. An Education World study maintains that “Supporters of year-round schooling say it relieves overcrowding, avoids summer learning loss, reduces a parent’s child-care burdens, and keeps bored kids off the streets.” Children with learning disabilities or English language learners especially benefit from shorter breaks.
Changing the paradigm would pose certain challenges. Altering the school calendar to include additional days would necessitate negotiating with teachers’ unions. An expanded school calendar would affect not only students and teachers, but parents and businesses as well. The NAEP website states that “the results help to inform decisions about how to improve education in our country.” The pandemic has caused severe disruption to learning. NAEP has provided “the wake-up call.” Now is the time to make a bold move to improve education. Let’s start with expanding the academic calendar!