Maybe Summer School Makes Sense

Ideas and Issues

February 19, 2021

students school PPE COVID new orleans facemask summer school

New Orleans                Schools reopening are a highly contentious issue for students, teachers – and their unions — and parents. Everyone seems to have a plan and a demand, and none of which seem to be working sufficiently to stop either the damage to students or the pandemic. One day they are open, and the next it seems they are closed. Mayors, governors, school superintendents, even presidents, all seem to be groping for a solution.

In New Orleans, where I live, in the nation’s largest charter school dominated district, it’s a rollercoaster. This month the district announced that there would be…

…daily, in-person class for students in preK-4th grade… and a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning for students in 5th-8th grades, with specific schedules varying by school…[with] the district’s high schools … able to offer in-person classes for up to 15 students at a time, with priority given to those who might need extra in-person instruction…

Huh? We live across the street from a high school, now run by the KIPP charter operation. We don’t know what’s happening in the classrooms, but we see the boys’ baseball team and the girls’ soccer team out practicing.

Sometimes I wonder how we would have handled this pandemic when our children were going to public school in the city before Katrina and characterization, but I actually know the answer. We were lucky. My parents and brother lived in our city. My mother retired as a teacher with a PhD in English. Without the pandemic, she spent hours every week with our children on their homework, as did my brother, another English PhD and a math wizard. We would have tried to manage, and she would have stepped up even more. Still, we lived by the daycare schedule when they were younger and many times, they lived in the office then. If those two facilities had collapsed as they have now, we would have been up a creek.

Reading about the long-term damage to this generation and the economy is disheartening. Noting that three million children may have had no schooling for most of last year by some reports is devastating.

Reading Apollo’s Arrow by Yale epidemiologist Nicholas Christakis who has studied every major epidemic over the last one-hundred years, the issue of schools almost seems like a coin toss, rather than a clear call, as he writes,

Detailed models show that if school closure is reactive, in the case of a moderately transmissible virus, the cumulative cases of the condition might decline 26 percent and the epidemic peak could be delayed by sixteen days….closing the school proactively, one or two weeks before one might have closed it in a reactive fashion, offers substantial advantages. Waiting to implement reactive closure places all of the same burdens on schools and parents but offers fewer of the benefits with respect to epidemic control.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

I read that Randi Weingarten, head of the giant teachers’ union, AFT, is committed to moving mountains to get schools open, even as many of her local unions resist. There’s a chunk of money in President Biden’s stimulus proposal that would help school reopen more safely. Every week, our union hears reports from Houston and Dallas where we represent school workers and Head Start workers, and it’s a hot mess that demands a plan.

Maybe it’s all just giving me a headache, but I was impressed by Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell’s proposal that we need a makeup plan to catch students up on what they are missing, and it’s called summer school. I remember my brother and I were force marched into summer school one year to take typing. We hated it, but for me, it’s been a lifesaver, since my handwriting along with behavior were always my barely passing grades. This might be a plan that could work for millions, teachers willing, even for a month of makeup? Kids have already had a vacation of sorts, and to heck with the heat.