How Will the Rye City School District Make Up the Lost Learning Time
How Will the Rye City School District Make Up the Lost Learning Time?
By Molly and Justin Boxford, Claire and Todd Conklin,
Jackie Mecca and Michael Harrington
As we approach the mid-March reopening of the Rye City District schools, we are dismayed that the District is closing them shortly thereafter for what will be the second week-long recess in just two short months. To add insult to injury, this comes during a calendar year when many of our youngest and most vulnerable students have had far less instructional time per month than they are supposed to receive in a week. May 2021 will be the first full month of in-class instruction since March of 2020, and it is simply too little too late.
So, it is on this basis and out of an abundance of concern for our children we ask the RSCD Board members two questions about the future of our school system.
- What is its plan to make up the significant lost learning time?
- What is its plan to handle the Pandora’s box of emotional, behavioral, and mental health issues that will plague our children and tax our system in the weeks, months, and years to come?
We ask the Board to think quickly and critically about answers to these questions. The District is unfortunately a very good example of what David Brooks referred to when he recently wrote that school systems have chosen “fear over science” and prioritized teachers unions’ demands over our kids. The science shows that Covid, like the flu, is here to stay (New York Times, February 24 “No Covid Zero but Normalcy”). We cannot let it stand in the way of providing our children with educational continuity. Districts across our County, in neighboring states, and Catholic schools everywhere, are showing great courage, dedication, and innovation in educating their students full-time. Marin County, California has had 17,000 children in school every day safely since last September with 1,000,000 combined days in school and only ten cases of suspected in-school transmission, and none of those were student-to-adult. (Not surprising given that CDC Director Walensky said, “that when the virus does transmit within schools it is more commonly passed between staff members rather than between students or from students to staff.”)
The children of the RCSD have lost thousands of hours of learning time and thousands of hours of social interactions. “The data on the amount of unfinished instruction is significant”, according to a report on NPR (February 8, 2021).
A study by Stanford was covered in Jon Hilsenrath’s February 25 Wall Street Journal article, “Long-Term Economic Costs of Lost Schooling”, and it reveals frightening data: “Over 116 days of reading time and 215 days of math work” were lost in just the “early days of the pandemic alone” and that “lost study time for children during the pandemic has the potential to do lasting harm to their own long-term prospects.” This means they will not be able to afford to buy a home, pay school taxes, and live comfortably in Rye, N.Y.
Dr. Byrne has used “lack of space” as an excuse as to why our kids weren’t in school more consistently, despite that in July the CDC stated schools “may change the way they utilize space.” Our District has unused classrooms, music rooms, empty auditoriums, libraries, and teachers’ lounges that could have been used to teach our children with the proper distancing. The CDC also stated there is “flexibility so that districts …can assess their unique situation(s) and develop a plan that best meets the needs of their students” and that “Districts must always work to create student-centered learning environments that … empower students as agents of social change.”
Why has the District not innovated by using every inch of available space? Why has it failed to meet minimum educational needs for our children? We suspect it is again because the unions wouldn’t tolerate such innovation. This hurts our kids and drives away paying customers — the parents who pay the taxes and contribute to school fundraisers.
Fact is the Rye City School District does more “space” every year and they’ve gotten even more since they closed our schools. It loses more than a dozen kids each year to private secondary schools, and Windward regularly has upwards of 50 Rye kids — facts worth examining in and of themselves, but it has lost nearly 100 additional younger children and counting to private schools and open districts from Maine to Minnesota and Colorado and Wyoming since the start of the pandemic. Blue Ribbon Schools, such as those in our District, are, by definition, schools that “close achievement gaps among student subgroups.”
The District is losing many affluent families and families whose academic needs aren’t being met, and as a result, is widening the educational achievement gap. This should concern the body who gives out those Blue Ribbons and it should worry the real estate agents who have long enjoyed referencing our award-winning district in their pitches. (A friendly caution to parents who may have put off the decision to apply to a private school near Rye: your application will go to the bottom of a very long waiting list and your child may not be academically prepared for the entrance exams.)
The truth is if we don’t put education first and we don’t start now we all stand to lose. When we return to school full time, we cannot accept the status quo; it didn’t work before and it won’t work next fall. We must double down on all of the unfinished instruction by opening and staying open, relinquishing spring recess, immediately implementing the local assessments referenced by Dr. Byrne to properly evaluate the specific educational gaps by grade, lengthen the school days and/or extend the school year this June or August.
By the way, this is not a novel idea. Vice President Kamala Harris has called for longer school days. According to an NPR story (February 8, 2021), “education leaders are calling for a reinvention of public education on the order of the Marshall Plan.” The National Parents Union which just met with Biden’s transition team, said, “We’re talking about ending this idea that the school year ends in June this year. If June is when every K-12 educator gets vaccinated, guess what, July 1st is the 1st day of school.”
If we don’t prioritize our children’s educations and their social-emotional needs, it will catch up with the District in the form of lower test scores; our students will lag behind their peers — locally, nationally, and internationally —, who have been masked up and are learning in their open schools; and will lag behind them again when competing for coveted college spots. But worse than any of those things, the District will be scrambling to find and hire qualified counselors, who are in extremely high demand these days, to deal with the dozens of cases of post-traumatic stress disorder healthcare professionals anticipate we will face in the very near future.
Let’s not bury our heads in the sand by jetting off to a sunny locale this spring. Let’s do as Hilsenrath said, and “teach them fractions now, so they can learn algebra later.”
Let’s face it, everyone is working harder — teachers, administrators, and parents putting in more hours and juggling more things than ever before. But we are not working smarter. The community and District have made huge investments in time and technology. But this has not been enough; the just work harder — but not smarter — is not working. There is still a current learning and instruction gap as well as future achievement gap that needs to be addressed. What is the District’s plan? A return to the status quo is not going to cut it. We need to explore new ideas, new ways of working, new models, just as everyone has had to do in other parts of their lives and businesses. We need to work harder AND work smarter. We need to think outside the box. We need to stretch what is possible. We cannot afford to just fall back to the status quo. We need to look beyond traditional school schedules and days for opportunities to close the gap created by this school year and then raise the bar for future years.
Yes, this year has been a tremendously hard and painful year for everyone. However, this crisis has created an incredible opportunity to rethink how we work, how we teach, and how we learn. We need to use every space, resource, and tool, even those not currently in the toolbox. We need the leadership and will to innovate the curriculum, schedule, and teaching/learning models. We need to focus on the students and the parents as the schools’ primary “customer”. It’s time to double down on putting the interests and futures of our students first, above all else.
We all have learned a lot this past year. Let’s put these learnings to work and not be satisfied with a return to the status quo. As the Stanford economist Paul Romer said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” Let’s move forward and address these issues based on science, not fear. Facts, not opinions. Data, not assumptions. Evidence, not hearsay. Together as a community. Because we can. Because we must.
We ask the members of the Rye City School Board of Education to tell us their plans to address our questions, including providing clarity on the “local assessments” Dr. Byrne has in mind. Why not schedule a presentation to the District on July 1, with an audience of fully vaccinated teachers and parents?