Students are the priority

Shortening the school calendar mainly affects high-need students such as English learners. Nevertheless, it is one of the most widely accepted ways to tackle the state’s financial crisis.

Currently, almost 30 states have 180-day calendars. This contrasts with California, where the largest school districts, like the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), have already reduced their calendars to 175 days.

The number could now be reduced to 168 days. This year, Governor Brown signed AB 114, a law allowing school districts to shorten the school calendar by up to seven more days if state revenues fall short of projections-which is what is happening.

The prospect of a shorter school year is very worrisome for the most vulnerable students, according to a policy brief by The Education Trust–West.

The brief mentions a UCLA/IDEA study, which found that twice as many principals from medium- and low-income districts cut instructional days compared to principals from wealthy districts. The study also shows that students who are struggling with new material or learning English are the ones most impacted by shortened calendars.

We are concerned about this possibility, because the 2010 cuts that occurred in LAUSD, when 12 days were eliminated from the calendar during two school cycles, could happen again. The decision to reduce the calendar was mainly driven by those interested in protecting the jobs of adults, as former LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines explained at the time.

It is not right that the most vulnerable students, those learning English and the ones who have fewer opportunities to learn outside the classroom, are paying the price for California’s budget crisis.

The solution of taking classroom time away from students is outrageous. It forces teachers to condense lesson plans and makes it possible to eliminate subjects such as arts, social studies and even science to give priority to English and math.

We think teaching students should be a fixed priority in schools, in times of prosperity as well as crisis.