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Year-Round Discontent at Hollywood High

Education: Staff, students say learning suffers. But schedule spreads in district.

November 20, 2000|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Hollywood High School keeps its doors open 12 months a year to ease overcrowding. The year-round schedule allows the campus to run hundreds more students through its cramped classrooms. It also chips away at their education.

Teachers skip pages of material, assign less homework and give fewer tests because their school year has been slashed by 17 days.

Hundreds of pupils take the Stanford 9 exam shortly after returning from an eight-week vacation. Others will take the state's new high school exit exam just two days after they return from their winter break.

Many teenagers can't get critical summer internships and jobs that look good on college applications because they're in school, while others must return to campus during their vacations to participate in extracurricular activities such as band and yearbook.

Ask nearly any teacher at Hollywood High whether students are getting a first-class education and the answer is a resounding no.

"If you wanted to destroy public schools, you'd start with year-round schedules," said English teacher Richard Cunningham.

Hollywood High offers a glimpse into the future of education in Los Angeles.

Within five years, every high school in L.A. Unified must convert to a schedule like Hollywood High's, casualties of explosive growth and the district's failure to build schools. More than half of middle-schools will have to run year-round.

Twelve-month schedules have become a primary solution to overcrowding in a growing number of districts because they allow schools to serve additional students in shortened, overlapping terms.

Use of the year-round calendar has grown steadily in Los Angeles over two decades. L.A. Unified now has more year-round campuses than New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and Houston combined.

The experience at Hollywood High shows how multitrack schedules present students with hurdles that do not exist at other schools. The setbacks, while not crippling on their own, take a cumulative toll on learning, spawning what many call a two-tiered system of education.

"In a well-intentioned effort to solve overcrowding, we have exacerbated inequities in schools," said Jeannie Oakes, associate dean of UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. "People with more privilege and political clout don't want their children in these schools."

California has 1,035 multitrack campuses serving more than 1 million students, primarily in poor and minority communities. Most multitrack calendars are found at the elementary level.

In those grades, studies have shown a mixed impact on achievement. Little analysis has been done on the effect of year-round schedules at middle and high schools, perhaps because so few exist outside Los Angeles.

But among those who have experienced the impact, it's hard to find defenders of multitrack, year-round education, particularly when it comes to secondary schools.

Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer calls year-round calendars a "handicap" for students, an opinion shared by Hollywood High's principal.

When asked to cite the advantages of the year-round schedule at her campus, Floria Anderson Trimble offered just two: Teachers can earn extra money working during their vacations, and those whose breaks land in the spring or fall can travel during off-peak periods.

"As far as I'm concerned, the year-round calendar is not an optimum learning situation," Trimble said.

Hollywood High senior Walkiria Quiroa agrees. The aspiring high school teacher began her eight-week vacation in late October, right in the middle of college application season.

Quiroa is missing a chance to meet recruiters, whose visits are well publicized on campus. If she were in school, she could walk down the hall to the college advisor's office and get help filling out her application for Cal State Northridge.

"When you're not there, you don't hear what's going on," said Quiroa, a B student who transferred to Hollywood High from a parochial school. "I should have gone to a private high school."

Yohanna Figueroa worries that her vacation in January and February will cost her valuable time to prepare for Advanced Placement exams in the spring.

With a 3.5 grade point average and half a dozen AP courses on her transcripts, she is setting her sights on USC. High AP scores could earn Figueroa college credit and save her thousands of dollars in tuition. With so much at stake, she plans to spend her eight-week vacation at school studying with friends.

"It would be easier if we were like everyone else," she said. "The playing field would be level."

Civil rights advocates are trying to level the playing field through the courts.

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