The State of California is proposing to add ten days of instruction to the 2020-21 school year, in an attempt to compensate for learning losses during the pandemic.
Schools are driven by the clock. We can probably all picture that great round wall clock at the front of every classroom we ever sat in. Bells chime to signal the beginning and end of each day, at precise hours like 8:14 am and 2:43 pm. The time to pass between classes is rationed, with high school corridors briefly coming alive before the panic to beat the buzzer.
Time is a variable schools can carve up, manipulate, and – maybe – control. We often do it in the name of equity. If we can just ensure the same number of minutes of instruction for all…
In the 1980s I was a teacher in a multi-track, year-round school – a time-based solution to over-crowding in LAUSD. In our “Concept 6 Modified” calendar, 40 minutes were added to the end of every school day, and a whole month of instruction was cut. A trade-off of time and space was achieved, in the name of equity: three “tracks” rotated through the building, sharing classroom space, and students across the district all received the same number of minutes of instruction each year.
But as a teacher I knew that 40 minutes at the end of the day was not the same quality time as a whole month of mornings for children. Never mind all the instructional time that was lost shuffling between classrooms, moving materials, and going on and off of “vacation” mode.
The pandemic has put the whole world on hold, and upended time in countless ways. It has forced us all to take a pause in so many of the things that gave our lives a sense of momentum and direction. We can’t just plod blindly forward along predetermined developmental tracks to a presumably certain future. We can’t start and stop the buzzer just when we choose.
Since April, I have been conducting a diary-based study of the pandemic experiences of 33 families from diverse social positions around the U.S. Through participants’ words, we see the uneven the impact of the pandemic on the education of children – shaped by families’ social and economic positions, the ages and grades of their children, their access to technology, internet services, and technical support, and children’s particular social, emotional and learning needs. Some young people – across race/ethnicity and social class – are thriving. Freed from the drudgery of school, they are using this time to explore their own interests. And families are learning all kinds of things as they live through this moment – despite or because of all the challenges it presents.
What would it mean to really seize this pause, and use this time to reflect deeply? What if schools led this effort? Rather than adding a few days of instruction to the school calendar – charging forward with our pre-pandemic curriculum – what if we retreated for ten days, to bring students, teachers, parents and community members together to share what we are all learning from the pandemic itself, and from our experiences within it?
I propose a ten-day educational summit, led by California school leaders and students. That’s a ten-day plan I could get behind.