In a state that ranks near the bottom of national test score statistics, cutting the number of classroom days in the school year could lower that number substantially. Many California School Districts are cutting their school year due to the state’s budget problems. Sixteen out of the state’s largest districts including San Francisco, San Jose and Fremont will reduce the number of days in the academic year. While the plan is to save money, the end result may be disastrous for the state’s long-term economic future. 1.4 million students will be affected by this decision.
This critical setback could cost the state school system the hard earned educational gains it’s made over the last few years. In a state defined by advances in cutting edge technology, the education of future generations of Californians is critical to its future.
According to Jack O’Connell, Superintendent of Public Instruction, “We’re reducing opportunities for our students, which puts California students at a competitive disadvantage relative to other states.” The shorter academic school years puts California behind countries like South Korea which has 220 school days a year. The idea of a 175-day school year is receiving harsh criticism from parents and educators alike.
California is already suffering from shrinking academic school years in many of its districts. In a state that educates 1 in 8 public school children, the repercussions are numerous. California is in a severe public education crisis. According to Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy in Washington, “California is the basket case of the country.” With large unemployment figures and even higher numbers of unskilled workers, a lack of competitive education could cause those numbers to skyrocket in years to come.
The shorter year can save money, but at what cost? In Los Angeles, for example, a 175-day school year will save $145 million. But cutting the school year could cost the school districts revenue derived from federal grants. The requirements for the $3.5 billion school improvement grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education includes four turn-around strategies, two them based on increasing the number of instructional hours. Cuts in the academic year would disqualify districts from this grant money. California is at an educational crossroad.
When you combine the cut in the academic year with larger class sizes and teacher layoffs, the reasoning for California being near the bottom of test score statistics becomes clear. Shorter classroom time with teachers means a compressed state curriculum that will force students to comprehend more material in a shorter period of time. Longer school years are more apt to produce better students. If California is to remain a leader in the technology markets, it needs to have a future workforce that is thoroughly educated.
The teachers union has been involved in sessions over the last few months regarding this issue. There is a great incentive on their part to agree to a shorter school year. Budget cuts had already led to unpaid furlough days and a salary cut. Shorter academic years could alleviate the problem. Union officials say they have been put into this position because they have no other recourse. The San Jose Teachers Association voted 4 out of 5 to cut five days from the school year and other groups are following suit.
With teachers unions voting for shorter school years and the state desperate to tighten their monetary belt, the shortened school year looks like a reality. California’s future is in the hands of the next generation. The question is, will they be educated enough to be up to the challenge?