Every year, our educators contend with “summer slide,” a trend in which students exhibit a greater mastery of reading and math in the spring upon grade level completion than they do the following fall when they return from summer break. Research demonstrates that students living in middle- and upper-income households are better insulated from this event because they are privileged with a higher-quality continuum of summer learning opportunities, demonstrating the need for policymakers to equitably provide educational resources to students experiencing poverty.
All of this, of course, has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis, which ended in-person instruction several months prior to the official end of the school year. In spite of the best efforts of students, teachers, and parents to make the most of remote learning, studies suggest the disruption caused heightened learning losses, with the impact disproportionately distributed by race and income level due to inequities in internet access and quality of online instruction.
To use a phrase coined by the Garland Independent School District Trustee Wes Johnson, the “summer slide” has turned into the “COVID cliff.” But Garland's Board of Trustees are not merely speaking to this issue. They, along with Superintendent Ricardo Lopez and Chief Academic Officer Jovan Wells, are taking bold and necessary actions to address it, and better serve the 56,000 students of Texas’ 15th largest school district.
Fortunately, before our current economic downturn, Texas state lawmakers made a substantial, strategic investment into our system of public education with the passage of House Bill 3. One of the transformative initiatives embedded in that legislation was the Additional Days School Year, an optional program in which school districts receive half-day state funding for up to thirty days of additional elementary schooling, which can be used to supplement the cost of a longer school year across all grades. The initial intent of this idea was to address the aforementioned “summer slide.” District leaders like Dr. Wells and Dr. Lopez now see an imperative to use this tool to try and mitigate the adverse effects of the pandemic.
“We know students are not in their structured environments,” Dr. Wells explained to her school board last week. “They're not learning like they normally do... And so with this proposal, we are looking at all of our students, particularly those students that were already behind. We need to have a robust plan to get them back on track.”
That plan includes “intersession days” scattered throughout the school year that will provide “just-in-time intervention for students to respond to their needs as we go along, [instead of] waiting until the end of the year when we're [forced] to cram it all in... So this type of calendar is very strategic.”
As pointed out by Trustee Johnson in the discussion that followed, these intersession days can be used not only for the purpose of intervention for students in need of remediation, but also for enrichment activities (such as coding and robotics camps) and acceleration (including college readiness and AP prep).
Trustee Johnson also spoke to the robust community involvement Garland ISD had in adopting this plan, and how apprehension gave way to acceptance once parents fully understood the proposal: “I understand the concerns, I’ve heard them. I originally shared them. I’ve done the research, and I’m a believer. We're still going to have a nice extended [summer] break for the kids to recharge. But it doesn't allow that brain to atrophy for almost ten weeks. It gets [students] back in time [so] that we don't lose them. And if they had some struggles, then there is still that summer intersessional that can help keep them in the game.”
The measure to adopt an Additional Days School Year was passed without a single “no” vote by the Garland ISD board. With that, they joined their innovative colleagues at other large districts across the state, such as El Paso and Socorro in West Texas and Spring and Alief in the Houston area.
HB 3-funded initiatives like the Additional Days School Year have the potential to not only address immediate crisis-related concerns, but lead us toward the closure of historic opportunity gaps based on race and income found not only in Garland but in every public school district in Texas. Now, more than ever, it’s important that every community do all that it can to keep every student “in the game,” and moreover, equitably level the playing field so that all of our students can succeed and participate in our state’s prosperity.
If you’d like to learn more about how your school district can take advantage of the Additional Days School Year to support COVID-related recovery, visit TexasImpactNetwork.org, where you can access resources and view a webinar on “Maximizing The Student Learning Experience in 2020-2021”