It’s time to stop fooling the public: FL kids aren’t learning and they need to catch up, from summer school to a longer school year in 2020-21

May 4, 2020 7:00 am

Credit: Getty Images.

There’s a lot of spin in the world of government and politics, and that includes public education.

Spin means politicians try to make schools and districts look better than they are, citing accolades in speeches, press releases, reports and statistics that are forever positive.

State test exam results, for example, show Florida purposely sets the bar low enough to allow students to “pass” even though they’re not proficient – a problem as kids move on to the next grade but a bonanza for school districts that can show off high passing rates.

The biggest spin of all right now is “distance learning.”

Students are supposed to get instruction online and at home, with brick-and-mortar schools closed for the academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The remote learning launched in March. Most districts end the academic year in late May.

Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. Credit: Screenshot, Florida Channel.

In a press release filled with spin, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran stated that continuing the remote learning at home “will give our students, their families, teachers and our school leaders the ability to maximize student learning, while ensuring everyone’s health and safety continues to be our first priority.”

Maximize student learning?

It’s time to stop fooling the public, Commissioner Corcoran.

As the Florida Phoenix wrote in a recent series of stories, not all kids even have laptops, and some students aren’t even going online, so how would they be learning?

Some parents are struggling to help their students with difficult assignments, and educators are still tackling remote-learning technology.

Many families are tired, with moms and dads working jobs as well as playing the role of teacher, when they feel they are not qualified.

What’s worse, children may not be learning what they need to know to advance to the next grade level. And according to a new study, kids may return in the fall with less than 50 percent of typical learning gains, which will likely lead to major impacts on student achievement.

There is no doubt that students will fall behind, and they will be hurt for the rest of their K-12 careers and their futures. Disadvantaged students will be worse off — already struggling to keep up with their more affluent peers because of poverty and other factors.

Florida should launch immediate action to get kids caught up in their studies, and every family in the state should know about it.

It’s time to do the following:

• All students should attend summer school starting in mid-June, either by continuation of at-home remote learning or use of brick-and-mortar school buildings or other facilities.

high school classroom, school, education
Empty desks at school. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Of course, use of facilities would be predicated on COVID-19 infection data and other measures in each county. All facilities would comply with all social distance rules and safety protocols. Brick-and-mortar schools could even have shifts, to allow for the most space possible between students.

• The 2020-21 school year should be extended beyond the traditional 180 days by at least 20 school days, which would add a month to the school year.

Most Florida school districts have 180 days, but some have as few as 174, according to Florida Department of Education data.

The 180-day school calendar is archaic. Some countries, including South Korea, Japan and the Netherlands, have between 200 to 220 days in a school year, according to analysis by the National Center on the Education and the Economy, and some countries have even more school days.

• Florida should expand the number of school hours in a school day. The Education Commission of the States, a nonprofit policy and research organization, provides a 50-state comparison of the minimum number of hours in a school day and a school year.

The January 2020 document shows that Florida’s minimum number of hours for K-3 grades is 720 and 900 hours for 4-12 grades in a school year. Florida had no data in the analysis on minimum hours in a school day. But several states had a larger minimum number of school hours compared to Florida. It is clear that the state could expand the hours in a school day.

• The 2020-21 school year should include free after-school tutoring for all students who fall under federal poverty guidelines.

Of course, these new measures would require money.

The U.S. Capitol. Credit: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Last week, the Washington D.C., -based Council of the Great City Schools wrote a letter to Congressional leaders, urging them to provide billions in new funding for local school systems. Several dozen superintendents, including some in Florida, signed the letter.

“Dark clouds are forming on the educational horizon that will spell disaster if Congress does not intervene. Significant revenue shortfalls are looming for local school districts that will exacerbate the disruption students have already faced,” the letter stated.

The letter also acknowledges the concerns about how students are faring in distance learning:

“The amount of time devoted each day to lessons is less now than what would occur in a regular classroom. Students’ ability to interact with their teachers remains limited. Some teachers will have little more than a crash course on how to conduct online learning.

“And, the research on the efficacy of virtual learning is not particularly strong. The truth is that there is simply no substitute for students being with their teachers all day. The result, coming out of this school year, will be substantial unfinished learning for many students. On top of the predictable summer learning loss, vast numbers of students will be entering the next school year substantially behind.”

The letter added:

“With additional federal funds, America’s public schools will be able to add summer school, expand the school day after reopening in the fall, retain and stabilize our teaching force, address the needs of our most vulnerable students, narrow the digital divide, and have a fighting chance at salvaging the futures of millions of young people.”

Take heed, Florida.

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Diane Rado
Diane Rado

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.