Educators worry what an extended school year could mean for some districts

MI State Superintendent Michael Rice proposed the idea of lengthening the school year to lawmakers in Lansing this week
possibly extending the school year web pic
Posted at 4:20 PM, Feb 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-03 17:01:58-05

WEST MICHIGAN. — Educators are worried about the potential impacts some districts could face if the state mandates an extended school year in order to combat the learning loss students are currently dealing with due to the pandemic.

Michigan State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice spoke to lawmakers in Lansing this week about the issue of learning loss caused by months of students and teachers trying to figure out how to make remote learning work effectively.

READ MORE: State superintendent calls for adding school days next year to make up for lost learning

“In myriad ways across the state, country and world, it has been a brutal year in education,” Dr. Rice said as part of his prepared comments.

“As we plan for next year, as educators begin to do every winter, we need to pivot to a new, better normal, not simply back to where we were pre-pandemic.”

One possibility Dr. Rice put forward was to extend the school year in some capacity. It's an option that Paula Herbart, director of the Michigan Education Association, says would not be ideal if done with a one-size-fits-all approach.

“With burnout being a key issue, I don't think that I need to tell you that this school year shouldn't even last 15 minutes longer than what it is,” Herbart told FOX 17 Wednesday.

She says, first of all, it could present some serious financial issues for some districts.

“Educators are paid for the time that they're contracted, which is currently approximately 185 days, 187 days," she said Wednesday.

"If we were to extend that, we'd have to deal with those issues. Not that we couldn’t.”

Herbart says some schools could be able to use COVID-related federal funding to pay their staff in a scenario where the school year would be extended.

And as Godfrey-Lee Superintendent Kevin Polston said, “When we think about recovery, we want to be careful that we don't just try to fill what was back into what is, meaning, our system before wasn't great for students of color, wasn't great for students in poverty.”

“We need to look at it over a multi-year time frame. It's not going to happen in a couple weeks, in the summer, or a couple months in the summer, it's going to have to be holistic; it's going to have to be systemic.”

RELATED: Teachers reflect on struggles that students face learning in 2020

And in the short-term, districts like Rockford have expanded their summer school programs to help further offset student learning loss.

“It will be focused on elementary... and middle schools will be focused on language arts, reading and mathematics. High School, the same, except we'll also be offering credit recovery classes," Rockford Superintendent Mike Shibler said Wednesday.

“The issue about learning loss is real, and I think... individual districts ought to be provided the flexibility to consider how they might deal with that particular issue.”

Of course, nothing has yet been set in stone, but the important conversation about making sure our students are where they need to be has begun.

“I think that Dr. Rice's opinion of having some systemic kind of lengthening of the school year is a broader conversation, but not one that our members are unwilling to have, just understanding that it is complicated,” Herbart said.

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