Where Angels Fear to Tread

Even as local educators, parents, and students continue to work through schooling in the midst of a pandemic, attention turns toward recovery.  

As I mentioned in my first post this month, the first inclination of many will be to jump right in. Stories are already popping up about extending the current school year through the summer, although it’s notable that most of those floating this idea will not be the ones working in and attending school this summer. I certainly understand the motivation and good intentions behind these proposals, and as we approach the first anniversary of school buildings being shuttered, all ideas are worthy of consideration. 

The vast majority of suggestions, however, will be set aside after a brief period of reflection. Requiring students to return to a closed school building simply to take the spring 2021 state test was one such idea. No harm in mentioning it, but it just shouldn’t happen. A blanket decision to extend the current school year through the summer or to start the 2021-2022 school year 6-8 weeks early falls into the same category. To put it bluntly, when people convene on whatever social media looks like in 2050 to compile the pantheon of really bad ideas from the first half of the 21st century, extending the 2020-2021 school year would be right there near the top of the list, nestled somewhere between, “Hey, let’s attend the rally in DC on January 6th!” and “This simple mode adjustment will let us maintain the trendline and fix the 2017 state NAEP scores.”

They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The lesser-known corollary is that simply doing more of the same old thing that hasn’t worked particularly well and expecting different results is  just as bad. And that’s what I am afraid extending the 2020-2021 school year without adequate time for reflection and careful planning would be – doing more of the same old, same old and expecting different results. If we are truly committed to the idea that schooling will never be the same after the pandemic, that the new normal won’t look like the old normal, then let’s not start by rushing in with more of the same. 

Of course, setting aside the idea of extending the 2020-2021 school year because we are not prepared to do so is a lot like quitting smoking because cigarettes are too expensive. That is, it’s a good reason, but it’s not the best or  most important reason. 

When school buildings closed last March and we hoped that life would be back to normal in the fall, the notion of starting the 2020-2021 school year a couple of weeks early had some merit. But that was then, this is now. Schools buildings may still be shuttered in some places, but schools have not been closed in 2020-2021. Administrators, teachers, students, and parents are in the second half of arguably the most stressful school year that they, or any of us, have ever faced. The end of this school year cannot come soon enough. One of the best things about any school year is that it ends. There has never been a school year that needed to end more than the 2020-2021 school year. 

This is not to say that there are not students, in specific circumstances, who will benefit from instruction this summer – and perhaps every summer. There are certainly also students and families who will benefit from having access to their neighborhood school facilities this summer for any number of reasons, including having a safe place to meet, eat, play, and be well. Growing up in Boston in the 1960s, the local schoolyard (picture an asphalt parking lot with high fences and walls) was a comfortable place where we could spend a few supervised hours during the day in the summer cooling off, running and playing, and expressing our artistic side through chalk drawings on the ground and a seemingly endless supply of plastic gimp. And when they started building new schools in Boston in the early 1970s there was even a pool and a gym not too far away. 

By all means, therefore, let’s use a good chunk of American Rescue Plan money to open school facilities this summer. And let’s even use some of it to support targeted summer instructional programs. And let’s save some of that money to support planning for the recovery and the new normal. If there’s one thing we have learned from the past few decades of education reform, it is that the route to recovery won’t look the same for all students across or even within districts – one-size-fits-all is not a viable model for K-12 education reform. 

In my next post, I will discuss what some of those short-, intermediate-, and long-term recovery routes and plans might look like and the role that end-of-year state testing can play in supporting the recovery effort.

Image by jplenio from Pixabay 

Published by Charlie DePascale

Charlie DePascale is an educational consultant specializing in the area of large-scale educational assessment. When absolutely necessary, he is a psychometrician. The ideas expressed in these posts are his (at least at the time they were written), and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations with which he is affiliated personally or professionally..

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