Rather than shorten the academic year, if anything, the state should fund increased classroom time, some educators are saying, as they lash out against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest proposal to reduce the school year by five days.
The proposal would save the state $1.1 billion annually, but many educators say Californians can ill afford to shortchange today's youths.
"To close the achievement gap and prepare our students for success in the competitive global economy, we should be talking about making the school year longer, not shorter," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Friday.
Agreeing with O'Connell, Fremont Unified's interim Superintendent Milt Werner — who will hold a community meeting Thursday to discuss possible budget cuts — called any plan to lessen instructional time "educationally unsound."
"Many students need all the hours we personally have available for instruction. Cutting back on instructional time is something that needs to be put aside. ... I would wholeheartedly support more hours, more days" for instruction, he said.
By law, schools in California must be in session at least 175 days, but the majority of districts offer 180 days of instruction, taking advantage of additional state money available to them if they agree to stretch out the school year.
This arrangement — in effect the past 25 years — may end, though, if the state Legislature approves the governor's proposal.
California Department of Education spokeswoman Hilary McLean said it's unclear if shortening the academic calendar would mean a constitutional amendment to allow districts already offering the minimum 175 days of school to drop to 170 days. Only eight states offer fewer than 180 days of instruction, and none offer less than 173 days, according to 2002 figures provided by O'Connell's office.
Newark teachers union President Phyllis Grenier said that, between the lack of school funding and ever-increasing demands to raise academic standards, it's become "harder and harder to teach."
"We already have too much to teach in the time that we have to teach it," she said.
Instead of shortening the number of days students receive instruction in class, school leaders should consider eliminating testing days for students, Grenier said.
Another option would be to eliminate staff development days, which amount to three days per year, she added.
"At least that won't affect the students," she said.
New Haven schools chief Kari McVeigh, meanwhile, is concerned how the governor's proposal might hinder the district's goal of having 85 percent of students test proficient in English and math by 2011.
"Kids who are not proficient currently, given enough time, can be brought to proficient levels. "... We have to have the ability to give kids enough time to do the learning," she said.
The new superintendent also is worried how shortening the academic year might affect school districts' relationships with their employee groups.
The New Haven district has multiyear contracts with teachers and classified employees, which specify that they will be paid for 180 days of work. Even if the state were to reduce funding to the district, "we're obligated to honor those contracts," McVeigh said.
"We can't arbitrarily break teachers' contracts, nor should we think that's a good thing," she added.