Numerous obstacles make extending the school year a tough proposition, but the Biden administration wants to put billions behind it as a way of offsetting pandemic-era learning losses.
The idea makes sense, so much so that at least two governors, a national union leader and President Biden are behind it: extend this school year into the summer to help students make up for some of the learning they lost during a year of mostly remote school.
By summer, more teachers will be vaccinated against the coronavirus. Transmission rates might be significantly lower. And it will be easier in warm weather for students and educators to spend time in the open air, which is safer than being indoors.
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia promoted the idea on Friday, saying that schools should make summer classes an option for families. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California and Randi Weingarten, the powerful president of the American Federation of Teachers, have offered similar endorsements. Boston teachers and the district have started talking about summer options. And Mr. Biden is expected to ask Congress to approve $29 billion to fund summer programs and tutoring as part of his pandemic stimulus package.
But if parents and students have learned anything during this crisis, it is that even simple, intuitive ideas are hard to pull off in a public education system that is simultaneously decentralized and highly bureaucratic.
Governors have few ways to compel districts to expand summer offerings. Local contracts typically make it impossible to require teachers to work over the summer, and a recent poll of educators found that only 19 percent support a shorter summer vacation in 2021 or 2022.
Teachers who did agree to work over the summer would need to be paid at a time when districts are already stretching their budgets to cover costs such as updating ventilation systems, hiring school nurses and testing staff and students for the coronavirus.
Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax Education Association, the teachers’ union in Virginia’s largest school system, said that reactions from teachers, parents and students to the idea of extending the school year were “definitely mixed.”