Year-round school for some in Washington

The summer months are coming to an end, children are heading back to school, but they are experiencing summer learning loss and now require remedial education.

Every year, teachers across the U.S. say the first month of school after summer break usually is spent discovering what students have retained and reviewing what they’ve forgotten.

This learning loss disproportionately affects students from lower income backgrounds, according to a 2016 American Education Research Association study.

Substitute Senate Bill 5147 proposes a pilot program for four years at the start of the 2022 academic calendar to combat the issue. The program would keep the 180-day instructional calendar, but would spread it over at least 11 months of the year, replacing the traditional summer break for shorter, more consistent breaks throughout.

School districts, up to 30 in total, can apply for the program on a first-come, first served basis through the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

For districts to be eligible, during the 2019-20 school year they must have had between 500 and 10,000 enrolled students and at least half of their students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches.

During the bill’s first hearing Jan. 18, concerns were raised about the loss students would experience from a lack of summer activities like camp.

“Summer camp promotes skills like communication, cross-cultural connection and perseverance,” said Paul Sheridan, director of Four Winds camp. “The solution to [disproportionate learning loss among lower income students] isn’t year-round schooling, it’s universal summer camp.”

According to a Brookings article, a large contributor to summer learning loss is supplemental education, like camps, during the summer, which higher-income families are more able to afford.

Other challenges that year round schooling brings include scheduling difficulties for students who want or need a summer internship or job, vacation timing, air conditioning costs and childcare during the more consistent week-long breaks.

A 2015 study from the University of Texas, showed students in year-round education pulled ahead during the summer, but that traditionally scheduled students “catch up and pull ahead during the rest of the year.”

In the Senate fiscal meeting for the bill Feb. 9, legislators heard similar testimony to the January meeting, with minimal pushback from any party.

“The Legislature already establishes hours and days for instruction,” said Katherine Mahoney, assistant director for OSPI. “This seems like the natural third leg of that stool to ensure…that we’re mitigating that learning loss.”

However, the consensus among all parties was that learning loss with all students needs to be addressed.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for further committee hearings. Additional information can be found on leg.wa.gov.

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