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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How will kids catch up? Richmond struggles to add learning time

It will take time to make up for pandemic learning loss, Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras believes. But his proposal to add instructional time has faced tough sledding, reports Alec MacGillis on Pro Publica.

Richmond's fourth through eighth graders lost two full years of learning in math and nearly a year and a half in reading due to school closures, a Harvard-Stanford study estimates.

In honor of Father's Day, Fairfield Court Elementary held a "Dads and Doughnuts" celebration on June 5.

A year into the pandemic, Kamras proposed switching to a year-round calendar, with four weeks of vacation in July and four two-week breaks during the school year. Under his plan, most students would have been in class for 180 days, but the neediest would get up to 40 days of extra instruction during the breaks, writes MacGillis. "Teachers who volunteered to work would be paid more."

The school board delayed a decision, then rejected the idea. The teachers' union and the public favored the status quo.

In January, Kamras told principals they could apply to pilot a longer school year, adding 20 day by ending summer vacation in late July. Teachers would be paid a $10,000 bonus and some additional salary, plus $5,000 more if their school attained certain metrics.

Angela Wright, principal of Fairfield Court Elementary School, persuaded parents and teachers to agree to pilot the longer school year. Her students weren't going on family vacations during the summer. Her mostly-black school, and Cardinal Elementary, which serves mostly Spanish-speaking families, will pilot the 200-day school year. "Only about 1,000 of the district’s 22,000 students will return to school in late July," writes MacGillis.

Schools across the country have tried to add learning time, he reports. Atlanta added 30 minutes to the school day, Dallas "gave schools the option of adding up to 21 days for selected students, and 41 schools, roughly 1 in 8, decided to do so," while "five others opted for an extended-year calendar for the whole school." Schools with added days shows slightly greater learning gains.

Los Angeles added four optional days during winter break, but few students (or teachers) opted to participate.

Hopewell, a majority-­Black district south of Richmond, moved to a year-round calendar in 2021.

However, other districts have cut "classroom time in the name of safeguarding student and staff mental health," he writes. Spokane, Washington "reduced students’ classroom time partly to give teachers more time for professional development."

"Less school" is not the remedy for "all that learning interruption," says Marguerite Roza, a Georgetown professor of education policy. She fears a "numbness" to reports of learning loss.

Fordham's Checker Finn blames"a witch's brew of complacency, timidity, resignation, incomprehension, union resistance, and school board politics, plus a soupcon of condescension or obliviousness among elites to the true circumstances of disadvantaged families" for killing the reform plan in Richmond.

A teacher's union board member tells MacGillis says additional instructional time is not a priority, saying, "If everyone was out of school, and everyone had learning loss, then aren’t we all equal? We all have a deficit.”

Black, Hispanic and low-income students fell much farther behind, but the teacher shrugs that off. “Of course — because our society is inherently unequal.”

124 views3 comments


Jun 24, 2023

I don't know what the solution is, but I know that adding extra days and paying teachers extra to do the same old thing probably isn't it.



Steve Sherman
Steve Sherman
Jun 23, 2023

And I guess she is ambivalent about minority kids catching up because she wouldn't have that to complain about anymore


Jun 23, 2023

I like the idea of extra schooling being optional - some kids need it and some kids don't. I don't know what to do with the likelihood that many of the kids who most need the time won't be attending.

But, the other issue in catching kids up is that I'm guessing that their regular school year isn't restructured. 7th grade teachers are still supposed to be teaching what they normally would, but without the foundational skills or knowledge the kids don't learn. It's not just about making up time - the kids continue to lose ground because without knowing 5th grade math they can't learn 7th grade math properly. I don't know if this is playing out o…

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