One-Fourth of L.A. Pupils On Year-Round Schedule
Los Angeles--Three years ago, Los Angeles became the first district in the nation to start using a year-round school calendar on a large scale to alleviate overcrowding in inner-city schools.
Districts in at least 15 states had experimented with the year-round concept since the early 1970's, but most were predominantly white, middle-class systems in the suburbs that adopted the schedule to ease a temporary overcrowding situation.
In Los Angeles, the year-round schools are about 90 Hispanic and the students are a mix of new immigrants and older arrivals. In some schools, there have also been large influxes of Indochinese and Central and South American children.
The Hoover Street Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles was built to serve 350 children in a middle-class neighborhood of large, single-family homes near Wilshire Boulevard. Today, it enrolls 2,400 pupils, of whom 70 percent are Hispanic, 20 percent are Vietnamese or Korean, and 10 percent are white, black, Indian, or Philippino.
Lloyd Houske, Hoover's principal, and teachers at the school cannot speak the languages of many students or even learn their names. Ninety-eight percent of the kindergarten pupils do not speak English.
Hoover is one of 96 schools that the Los Angeles Unified School District has converted to a year-round schedule over the past three years in order to cope with an enrollment growth rate that, in some sections, has reached 10 percent a year. About one-fourth of the district's 550,000 students are now in the year-round system, and there are plans to include at least eight more schools this summer.
The Hoover school is so overcrowded that 600 of its pupils are bused to other schools because there are simply no seats. All kindergartens meet in double sessions, the staff must meet in a nearby church, and lunch is served in five shifts.
A new classroom building is rising beside the playground and will provide about 30 new classrooms--enough to reduce student busing significantly, Mr. Houske says. The district now pays about $600,000 annually to bus Hoover's students.
This year, 28l,173 children nationwide are in year-round schools, according to the National Council on Year-Round Education, based in San Diego, and 130,000 of them are in Los Angeles.
Some schools adopt year-round programs for academic reasons. Supporters claim that children forget less during the shorter breaks and that less class time is lost in review. They also say that remedial work and enrichment courses can be offered during the breaks because school is always open.
These schools are generally on the "single-track" system, which keeps all students in school at the same time and does not increase the capacity of the building.
But the year-round concept is most often used to combat overcrowding. "Multi-track" schools break up the student body into several groups on different schedules and stagger vacation time so that not all students are in school at once. Two of the most common multi-track schedules found in Los Angeles are the "45-15" schedule (used by most elementary schools), which divides the students into four groups and gives them 15-day vacations; and the "Concept 6" schedule (used by most middle and high schools), which divides the students into three groups and provides two-month vacations.
Besides Los Angeles, several other major cities, including Oakland and Houston, are experimenting with multi-track year-round systems as a low-cost method of relieving overcrowding in their inner-city schools. Yet little research has been compiled in support of the concept of year-round schooling.
Teachers interviewed in Los Angeles last month expressed contradictory opinions about the academic effects of the system on their students. Elementary-school teachers generally said they favored it.
Michael Dreebin, a Hoover Street 4th-grade teacher, said discipline problems are minimal after the 15-day vacations ("in the old days, it took weeks for them to settle down"), and that learning goes on even during the vacations.
"I give them tons of homework, and they not only don't forget things, they actually learn something," he said.
But at the middle- and high-school levels, teachers said they see skills dropping. "The honors kids are nowhere near what they were before," said Mary Taitt, a science teacher at Bell High School, southwest of the downtown area. "We're seeing kids who've been on year-round several years now. They're bright children. But they're not making the same grades."
The teachers said one problem is that many of the schools are on the Concept 6 calendar--which, although billed as a "year-round" system, actually keeps students out of school more than traditional schools do. Students on Concept 6 in Los An-geles have only 163 days in school--about two weeks less than students in traditional schools. To meet state requirements, the school day is extended 30 minutes.
But teachers complain that the longer day does not solve the problem. The students--especially younger ones--can absorb only a certain amount each day, they said.
"There's no way you can make up the two weeks," said Ms. Taitt.
The Los Angeles schools use Concept 6 because it relieves overcrowding more effectively than other schedules, officials said. A Concept 6 school built for 1,000 students can enroll 1,500 because a third of them are always on vacation.
Concept 6 teachers also refute the claim that students on year-round schedules forget less. They complain that their students forget as much during their vacations as other students because Concept 6 vacations are two months long. Some said they believe the situation is now worse because there are two of these vacations in each school year.
"They have two times to forget everything," said Marion Dodge, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Bell High School.
Losing the Advantages
As the school population continues to increase by about 10 percent a year in the areas of high immigration, more schools--including elementary schools--are converting to Concept 6 schedules. Teachers said they deplore the change because their students are losing the advantages of the shorter vacations.
Sixteen schools are already on this schedule and another nine are slated to switch over next year, according to Vincent Laura, a coordinator of the district's Overcrowded Schools Task Force.
Supporters of the year-round concept often talk about the opportunity for remedial work and enrichment courses during the vacation or "intersession" times. "The intersession program provides activities to strengthen basic skills in mathematics and the language arts," says a brochure prepared by the Los Angeles school district in 1976.
But, according to teachers, the Los Angeles year-round schools do not have the rooms needed for the extra classes and cannot offer them. "We could do a whole lot with enrichment if we weren't overcrowded," said Susan Schoettler, a Bell High School English teacher. Now, she noted, "nothing" is offered.
And even if the space were available, there would be no money to pay the teachers, because of the effects of Proposition 13, said Mr. Laura.
In addition, the multi-track system can interfere with a student's choice of electives, critics pointed out. Teachers become "A" track teachers or "B" track teachers, and their classes are not usually open to a student in another track unless he wants to attend during vacation.
"Why should only one group of the students be able to select an outstanding teacher?" asked Carlos Jimenez, a Chicano-studies teacher who switched to a school on the traditional system. "It's just not fair."
Teachers also point to the energy and time lost in moving their equipment between classrooms under the multi-track system, a procedure not generally described in brochures.
In order to maximize every space, certain teachers and their students have to strip their walls and cupboards and move to a new room every couple of weeks so that a different teacher--who has just returned from vacation--can start classes. Such teachers are called "rovers."
"It's really a hassle," said Irene Cinco, a Hoover Street teacher who will have "roved" 11 times between three different rooms by the end of this year.
Despite the inconveniences, however, most of the teachers interviewed said they preferred the new system, either because they have the opportunity to take more short vacations, or because they can earn more by teaching year-round instead of only nine months. Others preferred it because they thought the students learned better.
The Los Angeles district does not offer year-round teachers extra stipends, but there are certain other advantages in the system. Concept 6 teachers only teach 163 days (45-15 teachers have 176-day teaching schedules), and they get first choice at substitute-teaching jobs that open up on other tracks in their own schools, Mr. Laura said.
But administrators pointed out that as the system has gone into its second and third years, so many teachers are substituting throughout their vacations that "burnout" has become a serious problem.
'Burnout Is Apparent'
"The burnout is apparent," said Frank Armendariz, principal of Nimitz Junior High, which has an enrollment of 3,200. "It shows in their irritability in dealing with discipline problems and in their attitude in general."
Students interviewed at Bell High School said they liked the year-round schedule. Most said they worked as hard as they did in traditional schools and did not think that their grades had suffered. When a course they wanted to take was not available on their track, they usually were able to take it the following year, they added.
The students reported that they did not have trouble finding jobs during their winter breaks, but some complained that the staggered schedule disrupted their families' vacation plans.
The cost of running the year-round schools in Los Angeles is about $230 more per child than that in nine-month schools, Mr. Laura said. A major capital outlay has been installing air-conditioning, which was not necessary previously because schools were closed during the summer.
The installation--a job that Mr. Laura said is far from complete--has already cost the district $9.5 million, he said.
Administrators in the new year-round schools said the complexities of making the system work have thrown them together as never before and have produced a new kind of communication between the district's far-flung schools.
High-school principals hardly ever consulted with each other, said Bell's principal, Carmen Terrazas. But now, with the year-round system, they meet regularly, she noted.
The coordination of room assignments, of payroll, of parent notifications, of test taking, and of students on off-track courses triples the paperwork, said Ms. Terrazas. "You have to think of it as running three schools instead of one."