Schools Short-Changed in Budget Cuts
For all the talk about balancing the budget for the sake of our children, keeping classrooms closed is a perverse way of giving them a brighter future.
After a summer of budget cuts in Washington and state capitals, we have only to look to our schools, when classes begin in the next few weeks, to see who will pay the price, writes Luis A. Ubinas and Chris Gabriel at The New York Times.
The minimum school days in West Virginia are shorter than ever. In Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, summer school programs are being slashed or eliminated. In Oregon and California this year, students will spend fewer days in the classroom; in rural communities from New Mexico to Idaho, some students will be in school only four days a week, lists Ubinas and Gabriel.
“What’s needed is more time in classrooms, not less. Our school calendar, with its six-and-a-half-hour day and 180-day year, was designed for yesterday’s farm economy, not today’s high-tech one. While many middle-class families now invest in tutoring and extra learning time, less-privileged children are left on the sidelines, which only widens gaps in achievement and opportunity.”
Two years ago President Obama said that the “challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”
Plenty of research suggests that one of the strongest indicators of scholastic achievement is the amount of actual time devoted to learning. Therefore, we need to move schools toward longer days and years, writes Ubinas and Gabriel.
Ideally, increasing learning time by 30 percent would mean a more well-rounded education in a broader array of subjects; more individualized support; and less unsupervised after-school and summer time. For parents, it would mean a school day better aligned with the typical work day.
Last year, facing budget shortfalls and a need to make up money wherever possible, Walton County Public Schools sliced off 20 days from the normal 180-day calendar, writes Stephen Milligan at the Walton Tribune.
Although the system extended the school day by an hour to make up for lost instruction time, the 160-day calendar left administrators nervous going into testing as they wondered if the missing days would affect test scores.
In fact, test scores remained steady and system officials approved the 160-day calendar for this year with much less worry about the academic effect. For teachers and students, though, the second year of the shorter calendar is now just business as usual.
Ubinas and Gabriel however, see that the good news is almost every high-performing charter network in the country, from KIPP to Achievement First, uses significantly more scheduled time to achieve impressive academic gains, and many public schools, spurred by local initiatives, innovative state policies and federal leadership, are also adopting this promising practice.
Some schools have shown that these changes can be made without spending more money. Brooklyn Generation School replaced most administrators with teachers and staggered all employees’ schedules, allowing it to increase learning time by 30 percent without additional cost, writes Ubinas and Gabriel.
“Class sizes have been reduced and the burden on teachers lowered. Last spring, 90 percent of seniors graduated on time. Remarkably, when these students entered high school, only about 20 percent were at grade level.”
These ad hoc efforts are great for the students involved. But we really need a more comprehensive national effort to make expanded learning time the norm in American education, especially for our neediest students, through smarter use of local, state and federal resources. More hours of learning — not fewer — can make a world of difference.
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