Flickr photo by lori05871
Smaller districts throughout the state are being forced to shorten their school year in response to the state's budget crisis.
A recent California Watch survey found 16 of the 30 largest districts in the state, with enrollments of 1.4 million students, will be trimming their school year by up to a week of instruction beginning this fall. But there has been no systematic look at what the 1,043 school districts around the states will do. That's in part because changing the school calendar requires negotiating with teachers unions in each district, and those negotiations were only recently completed in most cases.
But reporting by California Watch media partners suggests that in at least some parts of the state the proportion of smaller districts shrinking their school year is similar to the proportion we found among the 30 largest.
A comprehensive report by Cheri Carlson in the Ventura County Star that ran alongside the California Watch report found that 10 school districts in Ventura County will be shortening their school year to less than 180 days, while 11 were sticking with 180 days, which until last year was the minimum number of days districts were required to offer.
In a joint California Watch-Torrance Daily Breeze report, Rob Kuznia found that "in the South Bay, most school districts have joined Los Angeles Unified … in exercising this unfortunate option (of cutting the school year)." In the northern part of San Diego County known as North County, six of the region's 20 school districts will do the same, according to reporting by Stacy Brandt in the North County Times.
A report by Kerry Benefield in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat also published in conjunction with the California Watch report, revealed an even more dire situation. Twenty two districts in Sonoma County will lop off one or more days from the instructional calendar. Twelve of them will cut the school year by five days, the maximum allowed under state law. Only 12 districts will maintain a 180-day school calendar. (Information on two other districts was not available). The Riverside Press Enterprise showed similar trends in the Inland Empire.
It was only a decade ago that California required school districts to offer a minimum of 180 instructional days to bring the state's school year in line with most other states. Then-state Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, one of the prime advocates for the change, said research clearly showed that a longer school year results in improved academic outcomes. A recent example: Researchers in Minnesota found a precise correlation between test scores and the number of days a school had to close because of snow. Test scores fell one-third to one-half a percentage point for each day a school was closed.
"The real secret to reaching kids, especially those who come from poverty, is that they need more time in the classroom," Eastin told California Watch. "There is a reason that kids are falling behind in international education measurements, and (a shorter school year) is one of them."