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Our Opinion: Learning our lessons

Many public school districts are ending the academic year early or plan to do so, The Associated Press reports. In some, use of distance learning via online tools has been pronounced a disappointment. But come August and September, when American children return to school — we hope — millions will be behind academically. If it has done nothing else, COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of in-school education. With students in the classroom, teachers are able to provide both comprehensive learning and individualized attention that simply is not possible online. Face time is vital.

Part of the reason for that is that when teachers have children in front of them five days a week, they can serve as enforcers. By that we mean simply this: Millions of American children live in homes where, for one reason or another, education is not the priority it should be. The coronavirus epidemic has aggravated the problem. A significant percentage of students simply are not buckling down and doing the at-home work assigned by teachers — and their parents are not policing them in that regard.

That does not mean distance learning is a failure. It also does not mean school officials should just give up for the summer.

Rather than declare that school’s out for the summer, educators should be preparing “enrichment” programs for students during June, July and August. A mixture of online programs and, where possible, one-on-one contact with students could work wonders in terms of closing the academic gap caused by the COVID-19 shutdown.

Intensifying rather than canceling the education-at-home campaign will cost money. Teachers are paid for the school year, not summer. State legislatures should encourage school districts to develop and implement summer initiatives — and should support them with supplemental funding.

All this is far outside the comfort zone of many educators. Fiscal strain caused by the coronavirus will make that supplemental funding a hard pill for legislators and governors to swallow. But public education may be the most important function of local and state governments. Finding ways to hold “summer school” ought to be a priority nationwide.

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