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How Much Are We Really Missing?

Today is the last day of the academic year here in the overly-large school district. This has been a challenging semester – for teachers, students, parents – to say the least.

Now comes the inevitable analysis of how much students have missed in the chaos of an abrupt switch to online schooling. Research cited in a New York Times article says some students have fallen “months behind”. NPR comes to similar conclusions based on a large survey of parents.

But in reading these and other similar reports, I wonder just how much “school” kids have really missed. This is completely based on my experience with the spring semester working in Fairfax for many years. Your mileage may vary.

Anyway, schools closed on March 12 due to the pandemic, and here we are 13 weeks later at the end.

One of those weeks, of course, was the regularly scheduled spring break.

We can also deduct the final couple of weeks of the year when very little actual instruction happens in most schools. Half day final exams for middle and high schools, plus assemblies, music department concerts, field days, and more non-academic activities.

And then there’s May. A good chunk of that month is devoted to standardized testing. Most students above the second grade would have had their SOL tests1 and large percentage of high school students sit for AP and/or IP exams. Plus large amounts of classroom time reviewing and practicing in the prior weeks.

So, the COVID-19 virus denied students 12 weeks of face-to-face “seat time”. But how much instruction/learning did they really miss?

Ok, I know I’m being a little snarky here.

However, how we use student time during the day is just one of the many aspects of schooling that we should be rethinking in the wake of this crisis. Especially since teachers, students, and parents probably can’t look forward to a “normal” fall semester. 

So, how much of what students missed during the past few months was worth doing in the first place?

If you do a Google image search for “student computer home”, you’ll get a bunch like this stock image used for an article in NEA Today. Well-equipped kids, probably with a good internet connection, working in a nice, neat, quiet space. I wonder how many kids, even in a wealthy area like ours, had the same experience with their distance schooling. 

1. In Virginia we have the state Standards of Learning for each elementary grade and the middle and high school core subjects. I don’t think anyone at the state actually considered the acronym before deciding on that name.


  1. Allan Weberg

    As a music teacher, I’m disappointed that you have lumped “music department concerts” in with “non-academic activities” where you imply that no instruction is occuring. In my District of Prince William County, music students are hardly ever pulled away from “core” classes to do music. The opposite is happens constantly, in spite of the proven benefits of music instruction for all students.

    • tim

      Thanks for the comment and I understand your disappointment in my admittedly snarky comment. My wife was a choir director in middle and high school for many years and I am actually a big supporter of school performing arts programs.

      However, while I know there is plenty of research showing the benefits of student participation in music instruction, you have to admit that many, if not most, schools view those courses as “non-academic” and not part of the “core”. And far too often in her schools as well as the ones in which I taught, concerts were scheduled to “soak up student time” (in the words of one of my assistant principals) just before winter break and during the wind-down of the school year.

      I’m happy to hear that Prince William schools values it’s music programs and is an exception to what I’ve observed in other districts.

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