School time is money — and learning

Time is money. To save money on salaries, Hawaiii announced “furlough Fridays” to cut the school year to 163 days. (Gov. Linda Lingle has proposed using teacher planning days to restore the missing days in 2010.)  Los Angeles hopes to save save $60 million by closing school for four days. Restoring the time will require a 12 percent cut in teachers’ pay, says Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

Unfortunately, less school time means less learning, conclude Dave Marcotte and Benjamin Hansen in Education Next.  A number of researchers have found that  adding instructional time improves student learning, especially in math. Losing time lowers scores.

The effect of additional instructional days is quite similar to that of increasing teacher quality and reducing class size. The impact of grade retention is comparable, too, though that intervention is pertinent only for low-achieving students.

The problem goes back to money. Increasing teaching days from 175 to 200 days a year would cost close to $1,000 per student, according to a Minnesota study.

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  1. California teacher says:

    A relative of mine is in the Hawaii public school system. while the furlough Fridays are truly a bad solution to a even worse problem, many of the local teachers (at least on her island) have really done a terrific thing. They (and others in the community) are giving their own time to offer special day camps on Fridays. Students can do special math and literacy camps to help boost their skills, and the furlough Friday camps also seem to be the only place left to fit it artistic and cultural education within an already over-crowded academic schedule. Local artists, musicians, and dancers give their time to help teach students things that are not only culturally relevant to them, but also needed for a well-rounded education. I applaud the local communities of Hawaii for stepping in to both boost their children’s reading and math skills, fostering a sense of artistry, and showing the children that the community will band together for their benefit.

  2. If 12% of the teachers’ salary only covers 4 days on instruction, then 100% of the salary is only 32 days of instruction.

    This implies that teacher salaries are about 30/160 the total cost of running the district – less than 20%. Where does the other 80% go?

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    “This implies that teacher salaries are about 30/160 the total cost of running the district – less than 20%. Where does the other 80% go?”

    This number is plausible.

    I’ll use California as an example and numbers from a few years ago …

    Around 2007, California spent about $10K per child for K-12 public education (this is per enrolled child, so kids going to private schools aren’t part of this).

    About $7K of that shows up at the school districts and $3K stays at the state level. Some of this goes to pay for school bonds that were borrowed earlier. Some goes to pay for state department of education employees. And some goes elsewhere … I don’t know the breakdowns.

    At my local district, around 80-90% of the money that the district gets goes to personnel. The rest goes for things like electricity, supplies, gasoline for the school buses.

    This leaves about $6,500 per student for salaries and benefits.

    About 1/2 the district is teachers an the other half are people doing other things: principal, secretary, janitor, librarian, school nurses, etc.

    So … about $3,250 per student flows to the teachers. Some chunk of this is benefits (health care, pension, etc). Maybe $2,500 shows up as paychecks for classroom teachers.

    This is 25%.

    A check is that the state was spending about $10K per student, the classrooms averaged about 25 kids (20 for the younger grades, 30 for the older kids), which works out to $250,000 per classroom. 25% of $250,000 is $62,500 and the average public school teacher salary in California a few years back was about $55,000 … so the numbers are roughly correct.

    -Mark Roulo

  4. Thanks for the explanation, Mark.

    How much discretion is there in spending on the non-teaching staff vs teaching staff? Most of the time I hear about “cutting education funding means laying off teachers” but nothing about support staff.

  5. “How much discretion is there in spending on the non-teaching staff vs teaching staff?”

    The short answer is, “I don’t know.”

    The longer answer is to look at the list of non-teacher employees that I found for one my local K-5 schools a few years back:

       *) 1 librarian
       *) 1 school nurse
       *) 1 principal
       *) 0 assistant principals
       *) 1 secretary
       *) 1 school psychologist
       *) 1 “special resources” person
       *) 1 “speech” person
       *) 1 “technology” person
       *) 1 literacy/reading recovery
       *) 1 food services person
       *) 2 ELD people
       *) 1 custodian
       *) 1 community liason
       *) 1 “C.H.A.C” person
       *) 1 “CELDT” person
       *) 1 catagorical clerk

    I don’t know what all of these are (CELDT?), so I can’t be too sure what would happen if these people were missing. Additionally, there are some district people (about 2 per school, for my district, I think) and people that I know we have (e.g. bus drivers) that I don’t know where/if they are accounted for.

    So …

    I’m pretty sure that each school needs a principal, secretary, and janitor. I’d be very reluctant to lose the librarian.

    After this, I suspect it starts mattering what you value. I don’t think we had a school psychologist at my elementary school when I was going to school (30ish years ago). Does each school need a nurse? Beats me. How about the literacy/reading-recovery specialist?

    -Mark Roulo

  6. MR: Many schools got along quite well without nurses – back when they’d trust kids who needed medication to take it themselves.


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