Onion: Public schools try 6-day year

Nation’s Underfunded Public Education System To Experiment With Shortened 6-Day School Year, reports The Onion.

WASHINGTON—Faced with shrinking tax revenues and decreased public spending, the Department of Education announced Friday the 2012-2013 academic year would need to be radically shortened from 180 days to six. “The first day, of course, will be spent learning names, handing out textbooks, assigning lockers, and so forth, but on day two, we’ll hit the ground running, covering all of history by lunch and hopefully squeezing in the entire language-arts curriculum before the final bell rings,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan, adding that any student caught misbehaving would be given three seconds of detention after class. “That will leave the rest of the week free for an intensive program of math and science designed to help American children develop the skills they would already have if they lived in just about any other industrialized nation.”

Duncan acknowledged not much would get done on day six, as students tend to be distracted on the last day of school, and they would in any event be worn out from the previous day’s homecoming, talent show, SATs, winter semiformal, prom, finals, and commencement exercises.

It’s satire.

Los Angeles shortens school year again

As Chicago lengthens the school day, Los Angeles keeps shortening the school year. A deal with the teachers union would cancel up to five instruction days in the coming school year and reduce teacher pay by 5 percent. “This would bring to 18 the number of school days cut over four years,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

There is, in fact, a strategic advantage for unions in taking furlough days and shortening the school year. The salary cuts that result are temporary; they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year.

In the process, teachers avoid making permanent concessions on pension or health benefits. L.A. Unified employees still pay no monthly premiums for health insurance for themselves or family members. And teachers still receive raises based on experience or additional education.

Shortening the school year also “could generate the outrage needed to build public support for boosting state funding,” political analysts say.  “You’re not going to mobilize nearly as many people by warning them about the need to renegotiate pension and health benefits,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.

“Democratic lawmakers in Sacramento recommended legislation this week that would allow districts to cut up to three weeks off the next two school years — on top of the five days already approved, if voters fail to approve a tax initiative on the November ballot,” reports the Times. They’re going to kill puppies and kittens too.

Class time isn’t shorter in U.S.

U.S. schoolchildren spend as much time in school as kids in high-scoring countries, concludes a report by the National School Boards Association’s Center for Public Education.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan wants a longer school day and year, notes the Washington Times.

“Right now, children in India … they’re going to school 30, 35 days more than our students,” he said at an education forum in September, explaining one reason he thinks the American education system is falling behind those of global competitors.

“Anybody who thinks we need less time, not more, is part of the problem,” Mr. Duncan said.

Students in India spend more days in school, but fewer hours in class, totaling 800 “instructional hours” at the elementary level. Forty-two states require more class hours, the report found. Texas requres 1,260 hours a year for elementary students.

High-scoring South Korea requires 703 hours for elementary students, though many parents pay for after-school lessons. Hungarian students score at nearly the U.S. level despite requiring only 601 hours.

U.S. high school students average 1,000 hours in class each year.

In Poland, high school students need 595 hours in the classroom, the lowest of all the countries in the study, yet they top U.S. students on the math and science portions of the PISA exams, the most widely used measuring sticks for international comparisons.

Finland, Norway, Australia and other nations also show higher levels of student achievement while requiring less instruction.

Of course, it’s not just the time spent at school, but how it’s used.

 

What to do with a longer school day

It’s n0t enough to add time to the school day, advises a new National Center on Time & Learning report. Effective extended-learning schools use eight “powerful practices” concludes “Time Well Spent,” which profiles successful schools serving low-income students.

  1. Making every minute count or maximizing added time;
  2. Prioritizing increased hours that are tailored to the school and their students;
  3. Individualizing the added time for each student based on diverse needs;
  4. Building a positive school culture of high expectations and mutual accountability;
  5. Providing new experiences for students that make their education more well-rounded;
  6. Preparing students for the future by encouraging college readiness and career goals;
  7. Strengthening instruction by providing increased time for teacher professional development; and
  8. Evaluating how well goals are met by assessing and analyzing data.

Massachusetts  is the only state to fund longer school days: 19 schools now get the extra funding. However, NCTL estimates there are 1,000 expanded-learning-time schools nationwide. Not all have seen significant achievement gains.

Schools applying for No Child Left Behind waivers should use extended learning time as a reform strategy, NCTL urges. At a Center for American Progress forum on the report, Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed a longer school day and year.

“Right now, children in India, children in China and other places, they’re going to school, 30, 35 days more than our students. If you’re on a sports team and you’re practicing three days a week and the other team is practicing five days a week, who is going to win more? Anybody who thinks we need less time, not more, is part of the problem,” he said.

Top-performing students don’t need more time in school, forum participants said. For disadvantaged students, schools can be both places to learn and safe havens from dangerous neighborhoods.

The worst way to balance school budgets

Cutting the school year is the worst way to balance the budget – and it’s California’s preferred strategy, writes economist Eric Hanushek.

California teachers win layoff protection

California’s newly passed state budget was a big win for teachers, reports the Sacramento Bee. “Lawmakers blocked K-12 districts from laying off teachers for the upcoming fiscal year.” The bill requires districts to maintain last year’s staffing and program levels, even the state could be forced to cut $1.75 billion if optimistic revenue projections aren’t met.

“Districts will be under tremendous pressure to bring people back from layoffs and, if there is a midyear cut, there is no way to lay people off,” said David Gordon, Sacramento County superintendent of schools. “How then do you handle a midyear cut?”

If tax dollars fall short, the budget lets districts cut another seven days from the school year — but only if teachers’ and staff unions agree.

With layoffs off the table, teachers may have more leverage in those discussions to block school-year reductions.

If the rosy scenario doesn’t pan out, and districts can’t lay off teachers or cut pay through shortening the school year, they’ll just have to . . .  Hold up gas stations?

Natomas Unified interim Superintendent Walt Hanline called the measure “the most irresponsible piece of legislation I’ve seen in my 35 years in education.”

The California Teachers Association is expected to help fund Democratic efforts to raise taxes on the November 2012 ballot, the Bee notes.

California private schools regain students

As California public schools raise class sizes and shorten the school year, more middle-class parents are turning to private schools, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

The recession cut California’s private-school enrollment from 10 percent of school-age children to 8 percent in the last decade. Now several San Jose area private schools say inquiries and applications are up 25 percent to 40 percent. A Christian school that closed several years ago is reopening to meet the demand.

Catholic schools add 20 days in LA

Catholic K-8 schools in Los Angeles will add 20 days to the school year for a total of 200 days of instruction. Los Angeles’ public school year has been cut to 175 days to save money, notes the LA Times.

With 210 elementary schools spread across Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, the archdiocese runs one of the largest school systems in California, larger than the public school districts in San Francisco or Sacramento. It has earned accolades for operating well-run, academically rigorous schools that serve many low-income students.

Parents will pay an extra month’s tuition.  Charges range from $200 a month in low-income areas to $800 a month in affluent areas.  The archdiocese will try to offer aid to parents who can’t afford the extra cost.

Teachers will receive a 10 percent raise for the extra month of work.

Catholic high schools set their own schedules.

Extend the school day, but do it right

Extend the school day to make time for academics and foreign languages, sports, music, drama, debate and other enriching activities, writes Sehba Ali, chief academic officer for KIPP’s Bay Area schools, in Newsweek.

I met the dynamic Ali when she was recruiting students for KIPP Heartwood Academy, a public charter school in San Jose that ranks in the top 10 percent of California schools, despite its low-income, minority enrollment. KIPP’s school day typically goes from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., along with a mandatory three-week summer-school program, Ali notes.

But a long school day that’s all math and reading will burn out students, Ali warns. Teacher burn-out also is a risk.

At KIPP, we build in time during the day for teachers to meet with colleagues in the same grade or subject, enabling them to share lesson plans and coordinate instruction. This not only saves time for teachers but also helps ensure that expectations for both behavior and academics are consistent in every classroom. My school’s teacher-retention rate isn’t perfect, but while recent studies show that more than half of educators leave in the first five years, we keep 82 percent annually.

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have called for a longer school day and year. Hundreds of schools are changing their schedules to provide more learning time for students. But I think Ali is right: More time for the same, old teaching is more likely to exhaust than enlighten. And it’s important to design school schedules that work for teachers who aren’t hyperactive 23-year-olds with no personal lives.

Obama: Money alone won’t fix schools

As part of NBC’s week-long Education Nation series, President Obama talked to Matt Lauer on the Today Show, saying that money won’t fix schools without reforms.

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“We can’t spend our way out of it. I think that when you look at the statistics, the fact is that our per-pupil spending has gone up during the last couple of decades even as results have gone down,” said Obama.

Obama said his administration’s “reform agenda” includes increasing standards, finding and encouraging the best teachers, decreasing bureaucracy and deploying financial resources effectively. Teachers who fail to live up to expectations need to be given a chance to improve, he said, while those who do not should move on.

In answer to a question from Cincinnati sixth graders, Obama said lengthening the school year would be “money well spent.”

The president said he wants to work with teachers’ unions, and he embraced the role of defending their members. But he said unions cannot and should not defend a status quo in which one-third of children are dropping out. He urged them not to be resistant to change, particularly in schools which he said have become “dropout factories.”

“The vast majority of teachers want to do a good job … We have to be able to identify teachers who are doing well,” the president said. “Teachers who are not doing well, we have to give them the support and the training to do well. And ultimately, if some teachers are not doing a good job, they’ve gotta go.”

Training 10,000 new math and science teachers will be a priority for the administration, the president said.

Asked whether any D.C. public schools measure up to his children’s private school, Obama replied, “I’ll be blunt with you: The answer is no right now.”

There are a few D.C. public schools just as good as Sidwell, where the Obama girls are enrolled, writes Jay Mathews. Outvoted by his family, Mathews sent his own daughter to Sidwell.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be interviewed on Friday. Post your questions for Duncan here.