By the end of summer, children will have been effectively out of school for five months if schools open on schedule. Lack of adequate instructional time-on-task and long breaks in learning are extremely damaging to students, especially low-income students. Extended education inactivity can cause mental “atrophy.” The longer the inactivity, the more knowledge is lost and learning capability is diminished. Superintendents are already familiar with “summer slide.” Studies show children in 3rd to 5th grades lose, on average, about 20 percent of their school-year gains in reading and 27 percent of their gains in math during summer break. That likely be dramatically exacerbated this year.
One must also not underestimate the potentially catastrophic impact extended school closings are having on our poorest children. In 2018, almost 30 million students rely on schools for breakfast or lunch. Those students are also more likely to lack adequate access to online learning resources and technology often lacking the resources for effective home learning environments. For many of them schools are their safe havens and centers of social service support. Yet, out of necessity, forty-four states have directed that schools be closed for the remainder of the academic year.
The damage that has been done to students may never be reversed unless schools embrace a comprehensive strategy to put infrastructure and protocols in place to avoid further disruptions next year, and take steps to compensate for lost instructional time over the summer.