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Education

LAUSD to Cut 5 Days off School Year: Why Won't Teachers Consider Less Devastating Options?

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Wed, Jun 13, 2012 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge Why don't we just cut kids out of LAUSD altogether? - BYRON EGGENSCHWILER/LA WEEKLY
  • Byron Eggenschwiler/LA Weekly
  • Why don't we just cut kids out of LAUSD altogether?
For the fourth year in a row, in an effort to conserve dwindling state funds, LAUSD and the L.A. teachers union have agreed to cut from the single most important aspect of K-12 education: time in the classroom. If approved by teachers, the plan would deal them 10 furlough days next year. On five of those days, however, they would not be required to come to school at all -- and neither would kids.

The agreement was made last week, but Los Angeles Times education reporter Howard Blume runs a soft critique on the front page of today's paper, titled...

... "Critics decry latest shrinkage of L.A. Unified's school year."

The "critics" in Blume's story suggest that the union is just going for furloughs because they're a temporary cut ("they expire after one year and must be renegotiated every year"), and argue that performance-based teacher layoffs would be a more effective solution than shortening the school year. Also, one that wouldn't have such a negative impact on kids' futures.

That would be stellar, and we hope the many lawsuits trying to make such layoffs possible would hurry through court already. But there's a more immediate (and much more unpopular) question here that's not being asked: Why can't teachers put in five more days of work?

We don't mean to belittle the work that so many great teachers already do, and the midnight candles they're already burning. We in the private sector do it, too. The boss needs a report by morning, and there aren't enough minutes in the workday to get the thing done. So we stay up all night, turn it in the next day, and we don't complain. Or else we're fired.

But teachers -- or, more specifically, the United Teachers Los Angeles honchos who they pay to represent them -- often have a very entitled, public-sector attitude about the prospect of overtime.

They already get three months off in the summer. Although we're aware that these sunny afternoons might be dabbled in lesson plans and the like, three months is a really long time to rest on the public dime. (And remember: UTLA has fought to keep teachers' pensions and benefits intact.) Something tells us that for at least five days, L.A. teachers won't be dabbling in lesson plan, and might be willing to drive to campus and educate the children of Los Angeles.

Especially considering the devastating effects on the learning end, according to the Times:

A 2007 study by University of Maryland researchers looked at local schools that failed to meet third-grade improvement targets. More than half would have met goals if those schools hadn't been closed an average of five days a year because of bad weather -- based on a comparison with other schools and on achievement in years with better weather.

Separate studies in 2008 and 2011 found that a significantly longer school year was a key factor in boosting student achievement at New York City charter schools.

Reverend Alice Callaghan, a Skid Row daycare hero who went on to found excellent charter school Jardin de la Infancia downtown (See "Educating Maria"), asks of the new school-year cut: "Where is it going to end?"

Callaghan points out that on many Tuesdays, students are let out of school at 1:30 p.m. And LAUSD spokesman Thomas Waldman confirms via email that...

"Professional development Banked Time occurs on designated Tuesdays throughout the year and are utilized by schools for professional development. ... There are 26 (60 minute) early release Tuesdays for elementary schools and 14 (90 minute) early release Tuesdays for middle and high schools."

In addition, there is usually at least one "Pupil-Free Day" across the system per school year, on which teachers/administrators show up to conspire, clean house, etc.

Why can't instructors conduct these meetings after school -- or at least on furlough days -- instead of cutting into precious class time?

Callaghan, who has worked with many teachers in her day, says she suspects that "if you pulled individual teachers, most would go to school for the five extra days, or would be happy to have meetings after school hours."

But she calls the union, clearly committed throughout these talks not to L.A. kids but to preserving adult jobs, "an animal that has developed over many decades. Its rhetoric is often out of touch with classroom teacher sentiments."

Anyone down for some guerilla math lessons over summer in the gravel pit?

[@simone_electra / swilson@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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