WITH most schools around the country closed due to the coronavirus, educators and parents may have growing concerns about how long students can go without formal instruction.
Jennifer McCombs, a senior policy researcher for the RAND Corporation and director of its Behavioral and Policy Science Department, long has studied the effects of summer break on learning--particularly for at-risk students from low-income families or students performing below grade level. McCombs discusses how what we know from summer learning loss might guide educators, districts, and parents as they set forth on learning when school is closed.
The interview was edited for clarity and length.
Jill Anderson: Are there ways to borrow from what we know about summer learning and learning loss?
Jennifer McCombs: Home learning can be effective. Don't stress about learning loss too much. We don't have to replace every single hour, particularly when we're giving one-on-one attention to our kids. It's really engaged time in academic learning that's creating the learning, not necessarily the number of academic minutes in a schoolday.
Families and caregivers need to reexamine what learning looks like at home depending on the child's age. While younger children need guided direction, older children might benefit from opportunities to maximize their independence, self-regulation, and goals. Use this unique time at home to work on developing other skills, like having children create their own schedules and manage their day and time. Informal learning activities--like cooking from a simple recipe, practicing an instrument, playing charades, or writing and telling stories--can all make for an enriching day.
School districts should explore common online lessons for students as opposed to teachers creating their own assignments. One way to ease the transition is for districts to create standardized modules that all teachers can use and administer to their students.
Also, think creatively about replacing the school-related things that are not academics, like social interaction, sports, and extracurricular or after-school activities.
When conditions permit, districts can consider ways to expand summer learning opportunities and the number of students who can access these programs.
Jill Anderson: I wonder what summer break might already be able to tell us about what happens when kids are not in school.
Jennifer McCombs: The picture's a little bit complex about how summer affects students' learning trajectories over time. One thing that we know very clearly is that academic progress slows during the summer, which makes sense because kids are not receiving formal instruction. If we didn't see that, I think we'd be a lot more concerned about schools, but the reality is that it's very clear that academic progress is slowing because kids are not spending engaged time in academic...