The Philadelphia City School District plans to pilot year-round and extended day schools in up to 10 of its buildings, as part of a broader 5-year strategic plan launching July 1 if approved. The board will vote on the plan June 1.
The pilot is part of Superintendent Tony Watlington’s “Accelerate Philly” 5-year strategic plan for Pennsylvania's largest school system, which serves over 120,000 students. The plan was presented to the district’s board in a meeting Thursday.
Monitoring the implementation of the pilot will "involve some degree of restructure in how we operate the district," Watlington said, including launching a strategic planning and management office. In addition to accelerating academic achievement, the plan also includes a family and community involvement strategy in which parents would be paid a stipend to be ambassadors.
In the wake of significant pandemic-induced learning lags, researchers have suggested that common accelerated learning methods such as high-dosage tutoring may fall short in bridging learning gaps widened by the pandemic.
In a study released this month by Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and Stanford University’s Educational Opportunity Project, researchers suggested it may not always be possible to accelerate the pace of learning, considering it is determined by relatively fixed factors such as curricula, the teaching force and school calendars.
“Thus, it seems that accelerating learning following a disruption is difficult,” wrote the study’s authors. “Although there may be positive or negative shocks in any given year, the underlying pace of learning may be determined by a set of factors which are hard for districts to adjust in the short term.”
Anything short of drastic measures — like extending the school year — may only result in minute improvements, they added. And drastic measures are often hindered by challenges including parental will and awareness.
However, Philadelphia's new plan aims to address both issues.
Watlington said in a Thursday board meeting that he won't choose the schools that participate in the year-round pilot, as he wants parents and school communities to opt into the model after the district makes its case for the change to the community.
This could eliminate summer learning loss and give students that are falling behind more time to catch up to grade level, Watlington said.
Adding days to the school calendar, including year-long school schedules, has caught on in other places across the nation, as well.
In March, a Florida House subcommittee approved a bill that would create a four-year pilot program that lawmakers hope would help students recover from COVID-19 learning lags.
In Texas, the Aldine Independent School District implemented a 210-day school calendar on four of its campuses. As a result, academic achievement, family engagement and whole-child supports increased, Superintendent LaTanya Goffney told K-12 Dive last year.