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shorten the school year, Mercury News recommends

Original post made by sandy, Mohr Park, on Jun 8, 2009

I would like to hear reactions to this San Jose Mercury News editorial from Sunday's paper.

Editorial: Shorten school year; don't lay off more teachers

Count Mike Cross as part of an endangered species that should be protected: young, talented teachers who've been notified they're likely to be laid off because of budget cuts.

Thousands more may join them if the Legislature adopts Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to lop off an additional $6.1 billion from school budgets — including $1.6 billion from the current school year, with one week left! — because plunging state revenue has reduced the minimum funding guarantee under Proposition 98.

Assuming the governor holds firm on his no-new-tax pledge, the only way to save more teaching jobs and stop bleeding programs is to shorten the school year.

Districts face ugly choices. They can cut programs like sports and summer school, lay off counselors and librarians and increase class sizes by laying off more teachers; or they can truncate a school year that many believe should be longer, not shorter. That could signal to other states and to colleges that California no longer values education.

Given this Hobson's choice, we favor shortening the year by a week or more. It would preserve comprehensive programs, and it would spread the cost of a furlough to all employees while keeping new teachers on board. A shorter year would be fairer for low-performing schools, which tend to have younger teachers and are disproportionately harmed by layoffs.

Mike Cross illustrates why.

He is among 15 first- and second-year teachers at Overfelt High School, a low-income school in the East Side Union High School District, who will likely lose their jobs. And he's a teacher that principal Vito Chiala would least like to lose.

Over the past five years, Chiala has hired about half of the school's 80 faculty. There's a core of good veterans, but the newer teachers have brought energy and momentum. They led the creation of small learning communities that Chiala hopes will transform the school.

Cross is a second-year art teacher. Taking advantage of computers and a studio donated by Nvidia, he started the digital media program and led an after-school video production program for at-risk students. Five students who won honors from Adobe Youth Voices will attend an expense-paid course at Stanford University this summer.

Under seniority rules, layoffs mean last in, first out across the district. Ross could be replaced by a teacher who may not even want to be at Overfelt, or he may not be replaced at all. District teachers agreed to take on more students, so there will be fewer classes. Momentum for reform will be lost. The digital arts program may go dark.

Schwarzenegger could impose a shorter year uniformly. Instead, he wants to give districts the option to lop 71/2 days off a 180-day school year for up to three years, a sign he doesn't expect revenue to improve.

Districts should take it one year at a time — and try to pass a parcel tax to reinstate the lost days. Reducing the school year is a drastic measure that only months ago would have been inconceivable. Voters may see it as a reason to provide more money for local schools.

Here's the link: Web Link

Comments (18)

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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jun 8, 2009 at 8:54 am

Here is one opinion from Education World:

Web Link

"Alternative instructional scheduling can improve students' achievement, but there is a factor that matters even more. What seems to matter most is providing curriculum and instruction geared to the needs and abilities of students, engaging them so they will return day after day, and continuing to build on what they have learned. What matters most is not how much time a student spends in school, or the type of schedule in which he or she participates, but whether or not educators use effectively every hour that the student is there."

This ties well with another quote I posted from a Harvard professor about innovation. I've seen first hand how magnet schools and high school block schedules can be successful. Read about KIPP schools which are horrendously long by comparison. Either way, it's what is done with the time more than how much time. And I'm not blaming teachers; they are working within the confines of a system already in place.

To shorten the day/year to cover for budget woes is unacceptable; it's just MOTS (more of the same) for fewer hours/days.

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 8, 2009 at 9:02 am

Sandy, I was wondering how far down the blog you would go before interjecting the parcel tax deal. Surely, there are other alternatives to issues without a parcel tax. High taxes and unrealistic retirements and social services to illegal immigrants and other recipients helped create this mess along with chasing out of the state a bit chunk of our tax base. How about Arnie looking to negotiate with the state unions to reduce the burden we have no other state in the union has. Do you realize that we are the only state in the union with a 3 point retirement program at age 50?

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Posted by sandy
a resident of Mohr Park
on Jun 8, 2009 at 9:18 am

Hi Pete! Did I miss something? Nothing in that editorial says anything about a parcel tax, or illegal immigration. It's about a way to cut costs and does not require an increased tax.

Reducing the school year may require negotiation with CTA and other school unions at the state level. Before I go to the governor to lobby for that, though, I wanted to see how others feel about the possibility of shortening the school year.

Kathleen's opposed. Do you share her point of view?

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 8, 2009 at 9:56 am


"Districts should take it one year at a time — and try to pass a parcel tax to reinstate the lost days. Reducing the school year is a drastic measure that only months ago would have been inconceivable. Voters may see it as a reason to provide more money for local schools"

Sandy, I am for reducing non essential expenses to the lowest possible level before even considering raising anyones taxes. I think there is a significant amount of waste within the district and would like to see all of it eliminated first. After all of the waste is gone and there is still not enough money to afford our children a quality education then I could see going to the voters for more money but not before. I believe that if this had taken place then it would have been possible to have passed a parcel tax. Sandy, I believe the biggest issue confronting this state is not our local revenue issues but rather we have a huge SPENDING problem and need to confront it otherwise no amount of money will be enough to fix our issues.

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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jun 8, 2009 at 10:02 am

I was trying to post about the balance of shortening the year with innovation in the classroom vs just doing it for state budget concerns. I can't say I'm opposed without knowing how it would look in the classroom. To do it just for balancing the state budget I can't agree with. I wasn't commenting on the parcel tax.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2009 at 3:49 pm

I was talking to a teacher friend at Amador and here's what she told me:

Standardized testing (STAR and AP)occurs in April, so the teachers are forced to cover all of their curriculum BEFORE that point in order to maximize test scores. This means that they would have a hard(er)time covering the curriculum if the days were taken from the front end of the school year, but it probably wouldn't make a drastic difference if they were taken from the back end.

Other teachers out there, do you agree?

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Posted by A teacher
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2009 at 5:57 pm

How about doing away with standardized testing and teach the grade level standards during the 180 days of school? Maybe we could save some money if we do away with testing. We could also use the valuable time wasted with the testing to teach children.

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Posted by How about this...
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm

I'm a certificated teacher in another district. I was on my prep when I went into the school office to get some work done at the copier. There was a fair amount of noise inside the principals office when a teacher, fluent in Spanish, came into the Office and went into the chaos of adults and kids in the prinicipals office.

Moments later, the principal emerged requesting enrollment paperwork from the office manager.

Later that day I ran into the teacher who assisted the principal earlier. She explained that the principal spoke very little English and needed her help because, "three families were trying to get their kids enrolled but none of them spoke English and only spoke Spanish." She went on to tell me that while she was out of her classroom (!!!) she helped all the families complete the paperwork and noticed that all the families listed the same address as their an apartment!

I have never known the policies about illegal immigrants, but wanted to know so I asked the principal later who informed me that it is ILLEGAL for the school to question citizenship. All we can ask for is proof of residency.

As an educator, I know first hand what illegal immigrants are doing to our school system as we implode from the inside. When are we going to demand that there is proof of citizenship? I had to bring a birth certificate to register my kids in school, which indirectly shows my children were born in the U.S.

Why can't we expect this simple request of anyone enrolling in the schools. Money is tight and so why are we giving away our needed resources for kids and teachers to citizens of another nation? There is a very simple way to fix this problem and in short order restore our tax dollars to our own citizens.

We can't continue to be generous to others when we have nothing left for ourselves.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 8, 2009 at 6:36 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

There was a recent article about the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland. One of the things they do is try to keep students with the same teacher for at least three years. Even at the high school level (it appeared), students do not change classrooms. The teacher teaches all the subjects! Because of this, they apparently save up to a week and a half of instructional time that is normally lost to passing periods.

P.S. How about this, did you mean to write that the principal spoke very little Spanish?

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Posted by Please shorten the school year
a resident of Amador Valley High School
on Jun 8, 2009 at 6:44 pm

Our 2 kids are in high school. Starting around mid-May, the kids in the AP classes are finished with their tests and studies. If they are a senior and enrolled in alot of AP classes, they are done. They are playing games inside and outside, watching movies, passing the chair time needed by the state.

The non-senior is working at 30% capacity, since mid-May. Lots of movies, games, pass-the-time activities going on in most of those classes too.

Seriously, schools used to end at Memorial Weekend and summer started. As a family, I would like more summertime for my kiddos and my family.

But what about the teachers? Are we going to have keep them at the same annual rate, even if class time is reduced? Given the blogs of late, I doubt any teacher in this district is interested in working a shorter year for shorter pay.

One solution is a fully funded summer enrichment program so teachers can continue at their annual rate of pay and work with only 2 weeks vacation like the just of us. Hmmmm....there's an interesting idea!

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Posted by Bobby
a resident of Del Prado
on Jun 8, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Stacey, now you are really stretching it. An american indian school in Oakland? Wow! I bet that school has a big enrollment.

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Posted by Kathleen Ruegsegger
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Jun 8, 2009 at 6:52 pm

Wait a minute, is this a wash? If you are paid on Average Daily Attendance and close the schools for X days, don't you also lose the revenue for those days? This may save the state, but I don't see how it saves local school districts.

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Posted by How about this
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Oops, yes, thanks Stacey.

I should have said, "...principal spoke very little Spanish and needed her help..."

Long day at work, tired, sorry about that.

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Posted by How about this...
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I studied in Japan as well as the U.S. in college and I did an education research project with my class in Japan. We studied family education perspectives, educational structure, and also discipline differences.

It was definitely different than here.

First of all, the classroom belongs to the students and the teachers rotate. It gives the kids a sense of ownership. Kids also stay together for years and get far passed the social side since they know each other really well and focus on studies.

Fathers in Japan basically leave their families for days at a time to work in the City. Extended family has a great influence on rearing children since grandparents generally reside within the home of their grandchildren. There is a strong emphasis on the differentiation of work and play. The father leads this example as he works away from his family and returns later in the week to "play". They tend to have a four day work week.

Discipline is the opposite of the U.S. Our kids are generally taught to be independent and away from us. When they have a discipline issue, we bring them to us. We teach them that being with us is a consequence. In Japanese culture, children are kept with the parents at all times which fosters consistent behavior expectations. When a child "offends", they are pushed away from the family. It is a cause of shame and the parents don't want them around.

Just some interesting things from my observations in Japan. We could learn a great deal from Japan and other nations that value true education.

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Posted by Stacey
a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Jun 8, 2009 at 8:16 pm

Stacey is a registered user.

Here's the article about the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland. Web Link

Yes, it's small. Charter schools are "experimental".

A teacher above wrote about standardized tests. The article on AIPC has a teacher offering a different perspective on the common idea of "teaching to the test" (not that I agree with it).

"There is ... little else that won't directly affect standardized test scores. "I don't see it as teaching to the test," said Carey Blakely, a former teacher at the school who is writing a book about it. "I see it as, there are certain skills and knowledge that you're supposed to impart to your students, and the test measures whether your students have acquired those skills and that knowledge.""

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Posted by Russell
a resident of Vintage Hills Elementary School
on Jun 8, 2009 at 9:57 pm


" After all of the waste is gone ..."

How can you possibly get there? I don't think there has ever been an institution of any kind that had zero waste.


I don't understand the strategy here with any of these "solutions". It seems that school board will continue to cut programs for children, as has already been done. I don't see any elimination of waste at all. Twenty five students in K-3 classes is worse than twenty, and thirty will be worse still in the following year. Defeating measure G has not, as far as I can tell, done anything to improve the efficiency or fiscal responsibility of the schools. They haven't been forced to do anything but cut programs and fire people. Someone help me out here. How have things been improved by the defeat of Measure G? What improvements are coming down the road?

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Posted by Pete
a resident of Downtown
on Jun 8, 2009 at 10:02 pm

Russell, I do not think all of the waste can be eliminated as in all organizations there is some but I feel there is some real low hanging fruit which could be gleamed prior to going to the well for taxpayer money. Many people who were either out of work or hurting were really turned off by the lack of real effort at cost reduction before going to the voters. If you get rid of as much as you can and still cannot make it and it went to the voters I believe the initiative would have had a better chance that is all I am saying.

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Posted by PToWN94566
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2009 at 9:36 pm

PToWN94566 is a registered user.

How come no one has mentioned that PUSD use to start the Tuesday after Labor Day? What did the district do then? Kathleen, you must have some kind of knowledge about this- I went to school with both of your kids. Or, why doesn't the district start a week or two earlier and end a week or two earlier (assuming that the STAR and AP test wouldn't change, which they wouldn't). Also, the damn state should revamp this whole testing thing- filling in bubbles on a score sheet is a horrible way to assess students of all levels.

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