A little over a week ago, Ohio’s governor announced plans to close schools for several weeks in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a matter of days, 40 states — including Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin — had done the same.
Then on Tuesday, Kansas became the first state to announce it was shutting down schools for the rest of the academic year. It’s likely that others will follow suit.
What happened on the heels of those declarations was a whirlwind of activity as schools and parents asked, and lawmakers and governors tried to address, just what that meant for school obligations. Would the number of days or hours requirements that dictate the school year be lifted so that students are in compliance?
In most cases, yes. States like Iowa soon after waived the requirement. On Friday, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said students could bypass standardized assessment testing.
While pandemic-driven school closings are new territory, waiving off a chunk of the year isn’t unheard of. In states prone to hurricanes or other natural disasters, an “act of God” waiver happens with some regularity.
Perhaps it’s time we as country ask ourselves whether that’s a good approach.
Presumably, we have instructional time requirements for a reason: Educators have determined that’s how much time it takes to teach children all they are expected to learn in a given year. When we waive that requirement, we’re allowing that it just isn’t likely or possible for students to get all the instruction they need. And since it happened because of a pandemic or a hurricane, and by no fault of individuals, the student shouldn’t be expected to make up that time. The actual learning piece, it seems, goes out the window.
Granted, it would be extremely difficult to make up weeks of missed school. Parents and teachers, generally, do not like the idea of summer school any more than kids do. And American society would not stand for the possibility that students en mass would not matriculate to the next grade because of missed time.
So instead we arrive at the decision that six or seven months of school instead of nine is good enough to have first-graders become second-graders and for seniors to graduate.
Assuming school starts on time in late August, educators will have a massive summer slide to reckon with — more like a semester slide.
Some health experts say there could be another spike of COVID-19 in the fall. What if that happens and we have more school closures? If kids miss even more school in this calendar year, how long will it take to catch up on the learning?
Obviously it’s impossible to plan for every eventuality, especially when things are changing so rapidly. Waiving requirements now brings some peace of mind to administrators and families who have many other concerns to worry about.
But in the long term, we would be wise to think about and discuss education from the standpoint of learning rather than simply hours in the classroom.