At present course and speed, schools will just let out when summer arrives — with no real plan for students.

Jeff Camp

This amounts to a risky, all-in bet that the coronavirus already will have been contained, that hot weather will thwart its resurgence, and that it’s safe to expect that kids with nothing to do will sustain social distancing.

A better solution? Extend the school year into the summer, and do it online.

Learning time has already been lost as schools have struggled to embrace distance learning. In most cases, kids will probably be “promoted” to the next grade, regardless of readiness. School districts don’t have funds at the ready to continue operations into summer. The state hasn’t budgeted for it, either. The best way to address this gap would be to commit federal funds, now, for schools to continue operating online into June, July and beyond as needed. It’s not OK for this to be a lost year.

What about summer schools, some might ask. Couldn’t they step up to this moment? The answer is no.

Summer school has always been a baling-wire-and-chewing-gum thing. It only exists where people somehow cobble money together to make it happen. It certainly isn’t universal, like regular school. In normal times, people who run summer programs for children would be gearing up right now. Few are doing that this year, because the uncertainties are too large.

Carol Kocivar

The digital divide has been a glaring issue for years. The coronavirus has made it obvious that closing this gap is not optional, and that the time is now.

The $2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, swiftly enacted to respond the pandemic, sets aside no funds to address the digital divide. In order to provide all children with access to education during a shelter-in-place order, each child needs a decent personal computing device and effective access to the internet where they live. “Go to a library” or “use your phone” isn’t a good enough answer anymore.

This is a hard problem, but only by recent standards. Past generations tackled far bigger challenges such as providing universal access to roads, electricity, clean water and sanitation, vaccination, schools, television and telecommunication. All families need to be able to access distance learning not just in theory but every day.

This can be done.

Extending the school year online does not necessarily have to mean grinding onward with school as if nothing changed. Districts could give schools and teachers leeway to craft their own plans for the extended school year. Online classes don’t have to be of uniform size, or have homework. They don’t have to be conventionally tested. The core purpose, after all, would be to inspire students and families to stay home, stay healthy and remain engaged.

To do any of this will require significant new federal funding, fast. Neither school districts nor the state carry budget reserves sufficient to deal with this unprecedented challenge. This is a nationwide emergency, and federal funding is both essential and appropriate.

Unfortunately, the CARES Act falls short not only for the needs of the summer, but for the school year that comes after it. The California Legislative Analyst Office estimates that California will receive an amount in the neighborhood of $1.6 billion for all of K-12 education. This is budget dust — less than 1 percent of the total CARES package, and on the order of less than $500 per high-need student. It’s far too little to help states sustain schools in a pandemic. Students deserve better than budget dust.

Technology companies and others have been generously donating to some school districts to mitigate gaps, temporarily — but that’s not a long-term solution.

Universal household connectivity and device access, especially for low-income students, is not just a summer issue. It is not just a California issue. It’s not even just a this-year issue. Significant federal investment now can help schools throughout the nation incorporate digital learning in a way that will allow some lasting benefits to come from a terrible situation.

Federal leaders may be slow to realize the need for school to be extended into summer, leaving little time for planning. It would be prudent for county offices of education and school districts to begin developing contingency measures now.

•••

Jeff Camp and Carol Kocivar co-edit Ed100.org, a free resource in English and Spanish that demystifies California’s education system. Camp is past chair of the Education Circle for Full Circle Fund and Kocivar is past president of the California State PTA.

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  1. Marta Gomez 3 months ago3 months ago

    2020 graduation push back till July. Santa Clara County should be able to do more. Silicon Valley Corporate America, big parking lots, a drive thru staying 6′ a part. Something more should be done.

  2. SD Parent 4 months ago4 months ago

    The authors say that "Summer school has always been a baling-wire-and-chewing-gum thing," and "distance learning" over the summer is no exception. What evidencs is there that "distance learning" is working at all? What metrics are being used to find best practices? (That's a trick question because the answer is "none.") Throwing more funding at school districts so that employees can be paid full-time to work half-time on a "distance learning" is … Read More

    The authors say that “Summer school has always been a baling-wire-and-chewing-gum thing,” and “distance learning” over the summer is no exception. What evidencs is there that “distance learning” is working at all? What metrics are being used to find best practices? (That’s a trick question because the answer is “none.”)

    Throwing more funding at school districts so that employees can be paid full-time to work half-time on a “distance learning” is futile until there is data to support what actually works (even just to “inspire students to stay home and remain engaged”).

  3. Karen Eshed 4 months ago4 months ago

    Extending school through the summer should be optional for parents because the new remote learning may be working for some, but not so much for others. I do not want to extend school into the summer for my daughters, unless I can choose the program. I am a parent of two daughters that attend different elementery schools in different districts – LAUSD North East and Glendale. My daughter that is attending school in LAUSD North East … Read More

    Extending school through the summer should be optional for parents because the new remote learning may be working for some, but not so much for others.

    I do not want to extend school into the summer for my daughters, unless I can choose the program.

    I am a parent of two daughters that attend different elementery schools in different districts – LAUSD North East and Glendale.

    My daughter that is attending school in LAUSD North East is thriving. Her teacher is supportive, provides effective teaching programs, gives personal feedback on work assignments and helps parents navigate through this process to support our children.

    My older daughter attends school in Glendale and is not learning. She is basically given busy work and no real feedback from her teacher on completed assignments other than the same empty comment, “good job.” For example, the bulk of her assigned workload this week was an entire week of test-taking through Pathblazer for English and math. Sadly, the actual instruction is absent. I’ve requested the hard copy instructional materials from the teacher, principal and district twice but have either been ignored or dismissed with “not at this time due to COVID-19.” The principal did make it a point to let families know that she would work hard to find a way to get the student’s school pictures to families.

    I know my daughter is falling behind. I feel impotent to help my daughter without the instructional materials to teach her myself. Remote learning at Glendale is not working. I’m against extending it.

    Basically, no I don’t want my daughters to continue in a remote learning summer school, unless I had the ability to choose the program to ensure the quality and effectiveness of instruction and learning. Some schools and districts have it and some just don’t.

  4. Bob Capriles 4 months ago4 months ago

    Much as I hear the value in extending the school year to help keep social distancing in place, the need for resources goes well beyond financing the digital divide for our neediest students. Most teachers, another key resource, are on a 10 month contract - roughly August through May. June and July are months teachers need to re-charge batteries and prepare for the following school year. Some teachers use the summer to take on … Read More

    Much as I hear the value in extending the school year to help keep social distancing in place, the need for resources goes well beyond financing the digital divide for our neediest students. Most teachers, another key resource, are on a 10 month contract – roughly August through May.

    June and July are months teachers need to re-charge batteries and prepare for the following school year. Some teachers use the summer to take on additional work to bridge their own financial gaps. Personally, I have to take a training course (currently scheduled for two weeks, but could be extended to four weeks) in order to offer a new course at my high school next year. The new course is not a ‘nice-to-have’, it is a critical piece to solve a challenge that we have with the ever changing demographic of our school.

    Let’s keep the conversation going. What other options are available to keep social distancing in place during the summer months while also facilitating the preparation work necessary for the coming school year?

    Replies

    • Bella Urbach 3 months ago3 months ago

      Many teachers are parents too, working from home while taking care of their own families. It isn’t a teacher’s responsibility to make sure kids are staying home during the summer. At some point parents need to assume their role as parents and take responsibility for making sure their kids stay home. And if you haven’t ever taught in a classroom try doing it remotely, no such thing as working half the time.