Budget Cuts Threaten to Cut Class Time
Smaller budgets for education means that we should cut class time to save money, right? It sounds logical, but what will shortened school days and fewer learning hours cost students in the long run?
According to a recent article from the New York Times, several school districts have cut summer school programs, reduced the school week to four days and slashed entire days out of the academic year in an effort to save money and make up for millions of dollars in deficits. The report sites a $3 million cut to the Los Angeles summer school budget. Districts in New Mexico and Idaho plan to close classes on Fridays and Mondays during certain months.
What would be the consequences of no summer school? Well, according to the National Education Association, which began advocating in 2009 to bring back summer school, these programs are essential to closing the achievement gap in learning. The association cites that most students can fall two months or more behind in math over the summer break. What’s more, low-income students are disproportionately affected and can fall up to three months behind in reading levels.
Summer school often serves as a bridge for students who have fallen behind their peers, so that without this supplemental learning, remedial students continue on a declining path year after year.
The National Summer Learning Coalition says that summer school is essential to bridge the disadvantages between low-income students and their more affluent counterparts. Part of the Coalition’s efforts, aside from lobbying congress for summer school support, is to build learning programs, particularly in low-income areas. These programs provide enrichment opportunities during the months where students are most likely to fall behind.
But it’s not just summer school that has taken a hit. A shortened school week, even if only implemented periodically, would mean that more material needs to be crammed into a shorter time period. With schools increasingly being measured against assessments such as standardized testing, it remains to be seen how a shortened school week will impact student achievement. The fear is that students will not only fall behind in learning, but that the impact will reverberate against national measures for achievement. In such cases, students and administrators could be held responsible for the achievement gap.
So are lawmakers listening to the concerns of teachers, parents and students? Yes and no. In the wake of budget cuts, as local and state governments continue to look at shortening the school week or taking days off the year altogether, the national government is praising summer school and full school days.
According to the same New York Times report, the Obama administration is in full support of summer school. Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, has said that the school day, week and year are too short.
But how will these words stand up against action when education is still the prerogative of local and state laws? States set minimum days and minimum hours for school years. Even while federal stimulus money is going to education and the national government is encouraging summer programs, many districts are unable to meet these calls for action.
Since state revenues are down, many are taking cuts where they can, and shortening a school week or cutting a summer program equals cost savings.
How do you feel about a shortening school year? If you’re a parent, teacher, administrator or student, voice your thoughts with us.