Monday, June 12, 2023






        It’s a truism by now that children lost a lot of educational opportunities during the coronavirus pandemic, forced for many months to stay home and study via Zoom and other long-distance modalities.


        But kids and their parents last winter defied the longtime stereotype that they are essentially uncaring about education, showing up in large numbers over the holiday break when school districts including Los Angeles Unified, with the largest enrollment in both the state and nation, offered extra classes designed to start making up for learning missed during the online-only era.


        No one can doubt what was lost – some say stolen – from children during those almost two years when virtually no public school in California operated in person.


        Standardized tests have proven this, with drops in student performance at almost all levels in reading and math.


        But under the state’s Expanded Learning Opportunities program, school districts over the last year could add three hours to many school days and extend the school year to help students improve their academics. Since every study shows the poorer a child’s family, the more learning was lost, most districts prioritized low-income pupils, English learners or kids in foster care for the extra classes.


        In Los Angeles, the first day of extra classes brought out tens of thousands of students, with many teachers reporting pupils enthused even as they lost free time.


        But things did not look as optimistic when that same district tried essentially the same thing during its spring break in early April.


        Average turnout was almost 15 percent smaller, despite teachers having months longer to recruit students who needed help the most.


        Still, the spring turnout of 33,076 students for two days of extra learning was a lot better than nothing, demonstrating that at least some parents and their kids are motivated to learn and try to move ahead.


        For the kids who came, there was plenty of individual attention, activities where they practiced basic math and reading skills, got prepped for advanced placement tests or tried to lift their grades in various subjects. Both students and teachers afterward described a calm atmosphere with a solid learning environment for those who came.


        All this, of course, cost plenty, with many hundreds of teachers called in to work extra time. In January, Los Angeles district officials said they spent $36 million on the winter break classes. No figures have yet been reported for the spring effort.


        It was essentially a way for the district to get in extra school days in a climate where neither adults nor students appeared to want the school year extended deep into the summer, as was authorized.


        One thing the extra days demonstrated, with their smaller classes and far more individualized instruction than normal, was that this kind of instruction produces more interested students and likely better long-term results.


        But more than 40 percent of students who registered to attend did not turn up once the extra class days arrived. In both winter and spring, students and teachers reported that while the extra activities and individual attention were nice, “it was work that everyone already could do.”


        Yet, the teachers who offered this and similar observations were not accounting for oft-proven benefits from reinforcing skills already learned.


        The overall reality, then, is that no one knows – and no one may ever know – how much benefit was really bought with the millions in federal Covid-relief funds used for the extra classes.


        For Los Angeles and other districts long have offered smaller-scale special instruction during breaks as well as some academic credit for online work accepted late, even after the school year ends.


        But many students pointed to benefits that are difficult to measure, like the added simplicity and ability to concentrate when spending a school day in one classroom, rather than shifting from room to room, floor to floor and building to building every 43 or 45 minutes during a regular school day.


        “Much simpler,” some students reported.


        Any such benefits, of course, went only to those who showed up. Another sign that education can only be as successful as allowed by the interest levels of both children and their parents.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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