State superintendent: Extend the Michigan school year to combat pandemic learning loss

Michael Rice will be Michigan’s next superintendent.
Michael Rice, Michigan’s state superintendent, says the minimum number of annual school days should be increased. (Vimeo)

Michigan’s top school official wants state lawmakers to increase the minimum number of days children are required to attend school.

Michael Rice, state superintendent, said that the pandemic has exacerbated students’ learning needs. With schools closed to slow the spread of COVID-19, thousands of students statewide spent much of the last 10 months learning online.

“Most students will receive less instruction from March of last year through the end of this school year than in any similar period of their education,” he said, speaking before members of the Michigan house and senate education committees.

“The current minimum number of days 180 was too low before the pandemic. It isn’t close to that of high performing nations. Students and staff need more coming out of the pandemic. The state legislature should raise the minimum number of days to underscore the need for more time.”

Rice’s comments add to a growing national conversation about how best to help students catch up from pandemic learning losses. Advocates are calling for a national tutoring program. In Tennessee, lawmakers recently beefed up their third-grade reading law and authorized tutoring and summer school programs. School officials in Detroit recently said they would dramatically expand their summer school offerings this year.

Michigan schools are set to receive a large infusion of federal coronavirus relief money, which could be used to expand students’ learning time. (The Michigan GOP is currently threatening not to allocate the coronavirus relief funds.)

Rice did not specify how many days he wants added to the minimum school year. Most other states in the U.S. require 180 school days per year at minimum.

Extending the school year is one way to increase learning time. Rice also echoed national calls for additional out-of-school learning time through tutoring, mentoring, and summer school.

Certain groups especially need more time with teachers, Rice said: Early readers, struggling readers, students with disabilities, and students who don’t speak English at home.

Over the last decade, Michigan steadily expanded its minimum school year from 165 to 180 days. It has been 180 days since the 2016-2017 school year. This is only a minimum, and some schools currently hold classes more than 180 days a year.

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