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OpinionCoronavirus

NY can save the school year

Students, specifically elementary students, should continue in September

Students, specifically elementary students, should continue in September with the same teacher they currently have. This is known as looping. Credit: ISTOCK

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With Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo extending school closures until April 15, the likelihood that schools will reopen this year becomes less of a reality as the number of those diagnosed with or dying from the coronavirus in our state increases. Even if schools were to reopen, it is doubtful many parents would be willing to send their children back to the classroom.

Parents have done some heavy lifting during this health crisis. Already working from home themselves, they have the added responsibility of instructing their children. And through no fault of their own, school districts were woefully unprepared to deliver distance learning at this level. Arguably, this instructional delivery model is not effective and cannot be sustained. So let’s call for the end of the school year, starting May 1. School officials should begin planning now for September.

When students return in the fall, teachers can expect that the quality of learning during the health crisis will have varied. An incredible amount of teacher time will need to be initially dedicated to assessing what students learned before schools closed and when they were home. This information is invaluable because teachers need to know where students are academically. But this assessment period could take weeks — if not months — to determine the levels of student learning.

So students, specifically elementary students, should continue in September with the same teacher they currently have. This is known as looping: the instructional practice of having students, particularly on the elementary level, remain with their teacher for more than one year. Two years is typical.

Looping is not a new idea. A 1913 memo from the U.S. Department of the Interior (which then supervised public education) supported the practice. And a 2013 study by A.J. Hill of Montana State University and D.B. Jones of the University of South Carolina concluded that when an entire class and its teacher move together to the next grade, significant gains in student achievement are realized.

What better time for districts to implement looping than in September? Elementary teachers from this year will stay with their current students by following them into the next grade (the highest grade teacher in the building becomes the kindergarten teacher). Teachers would know students, where they were academically before schools were closed, and which content and instruction took place while students were home. The looping teacher would spend significantly less time reviewing and assessing learning than any new teacher would. This saved time would become instructional time. And perhaps students and parents would feel more comfortable knowing that the same teacher from this school year would continue instructing their child. This is important considering this school year has been filled with chaos and uncertainty. 

The implementation of looping requires the cooperation of the teachers, their unions and district officials. Unions have collective-bargaining agreements that may outline how seniority and other factors stipulate teachers’ assignments. But after considering this crisis, both sides should work to resolve contractual obstacles to implementing looping.

After all, prioritizing the benefits to students should result in a timely and needed agreement. 

Philip S. Cicero is a retired superintendent of Lynbrook public schools and author of “The Seven Deadly Sins of the K-12 Education System.”

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