Coronavirus closures present districts opportunities to rethink schedules

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Dive Brief:

  • Widespread school closures as a result of novel coronavirus provide an opportunity for districts to reorganize the school day and bell schedule, District Administration reports. A report from Always Be Learning’s Unlocking Time project found 72% of schools have periods under 60 minutes, and 74% arrange classes into short, same-length periods.

  • The research indicates most secondary schools start between 7:30 and 8:30, and that elementary schools still start later than secondary schools despite data suggesting teenagers benefit from later start times. The survey shows 95% of administrators use late start or early dismissal for teacher collaboration.

  • Daniel Pink, author and productivity expert, said in a keynote address at this year’s Future of Education Technology Conference that reorganizing high school schedules to start after 8:30, with academic classes earlier in day, makes pedagogical sense.

Dive Insight:

The sudden closure of schools due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic creates both challenges and opportunities for districts. At this point, few states indicate schools will reopen before the end of the school year. The lengthy break will likely lead to learning loss, experts warn.

In an episode of Harvard EdCast, Jennifer McCombs, a senior policy researcher for RAND Corporation, said students from low-income families and those performing below grade-level are at the highest risk. These at-risk students may fall further behind as schools switch to online learning platforms. Some IEP plans, for example, can’t easily transfer online. For many, however, some online learning is better than no learning at all.

There are many problems with schools switching to online learning, McCombs said. Many parents are dealing with their own life changes amid the pandemic, whether working from home or dealing with a job loss. For students, online learning may fill the education gap, but social lives are disrupted, sports are canceled and extracurricular activities are put on hold.

For seniors, the prospect of an abrupt end to school is particularly gut-wrenching, McCombs said. These students face disruptions to a number of milestones, including graduation and prom. On the positive side, the new school schedules may be helpful for teenagers, who tend to do better when allowed to sleep in.

For early-childhood learning, the closures may also impact reading progress. On this front, Save the Children has collected resources for parents with children in pre-K to 6th grade. Younger kids do better with a regular schedule that maintains typical waking and eating times, Betsy Zorio, the organization’s vice president of U.S. programs and advocacy, told CityBeat. And though schools will provide opportunities for students to make up for lost time when the crisis is over, keeping students engaged in reading is particularly critical.

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