SACRAMENTO — If a president of a corporation suggested that the way to meet the demand for increased services would be to close the business for three months every year, that executive's wisdom would be questioned. Yet in many cases, California schools attempt to accommodate increased student enrollment while continuing to operate on a nine-month schedule.
Changing a schedule that has become a firmly entrenched way of doing business is not a simple task. Nonetheless, projections about future enrollments demand that we reevaluate the traditional school calendar in areas with rapidly increasing student populations and that we implement a year-round schedule, when necessary, to alleviate classroom crowding.
The year-round school concept is not new. In the 1800s, most urban schools were open year-round, while most rural schools, following an agrarian schedule, were in session for six to eight months so that children could help with the harvest. The traditional nine-month school calendar that has emerged is a compromise between these differing schedules. However, since our population is now largely urban and suburban, the need for a long summer vacation has greatly diminished.
California already has more year-round schools than all other states combined. During the 1984-85 school year, we had 260 schools operating on various year-round schedules; most of these schools instituted the change to utilize facilities more efficiently. Year-round schools can accommodate approximately one-third more students than traditional schools. By establishing year-round schools, it is possible to delay or eliminate the need for new construction.
Estimates indicate that California is $500 million per year short of being able to meet the demand for new classroom space by 1990. The shortage is particularly acute in the Los Angeles area. I have been working with legislators and the governor for legislation that increases facilities funding and provides for maximum local control. So far, however, no legislation has been signed into law that would provide the additional dollars necessary. In addition, new construction money will only solve future site shortages and not alleviate the immediate problem.
Current law does provide fiscal assistance to districts that reduce overcrowding by using facilities on a year-round basis: The Hughes-Hart Educational Reform act of 1983, California's sweeping educational-reform legislation, allows an additional $25 per student in overcrowded districts. The State Department of Education is supporting legislation to increase this dollar amount. The department is also supporting proposals to provide additional funding for air conditioning and insulation in year-round schools.
In addition to greater utilization of existing space, year-round schools offer other advantages:
--With a shorter summer break, students often forget less of what they learned during the previous school year, and teachers need to do less review when school resumes in the fall. Studies at the Oxnard School District, which has had year-round schools for the past 10 years, have shown a marked rise in student test scores. The gains become particularly significant for migrant and disadvantaged children but all groups show increased achievement.
--Less instructional time is lost at the end of the school year on a year-round schedule, compared with the weeks just before the traditional summer vacation.
--Some districts report a significant decrease in vandalism, burglary and graffiti at school sites and in the community at large after year-round schedules have been established.
--There seems to be less absenteeism among both students and teachers.
--Teachers have the option of increased professionalism, both in the classroom and in assuming new responsibilities. The chance to work year-round makes teaching a 12-month job and allows for salaries comparable to other professions. Talented teachers also have the opportunity to take on additional work in curriculum and staff development during their non-teaching months at the school site.
--Communities that have had difficulty finding substitute teachers report that year-round school provides a pool of highly qualified, regular teachers who are able to substitute during their time off.
Students experience other benefits as well. Under multitrack programs, students can enter the school system throughout the year, rather than only in September. In year-round schools, the staggered vacation schedules also decrease the competition for student employment, because not all the students are competing for jobs during the same three months. Student employees are also consistently available throughout the year for local employers.
Clearly, there are potential problems that must be addressed. One legitimate concern is that teachers may be required to use several different classrooms during the course of the school year. As much as possible, we need to be sensitive to this difficulty and minimize the disruption.