The Los Angeles Board of Education is due to revisit one of its most resilient and controversial issues next week: year-round schools.
For the fourth time in five years, the board will vote Feb. 5 on whether to adopt a districtwide year-round program to help ease overcrowding.
First broached by school officials in the fall of 1985, the idea of converting to a year-round schedule has risen and fallen in the nation’s second-largest school system on the strength of various logistical problems it either relieves or creates.
They are problems that a number of other localities are studying closely this year as year-round schooling “comes of age,” in the words of one advocate, in a time of tight money and growing school-age populations.
This month, the Texas Board of Education endorsed a policy encouraging schools to convert to year-round schedules. And in California, Gov. George Deukmejian pledged in his State of the State Message to provide “strong financial incentives” to districts that adopt a year-round program.
Mr. Deukmejian summarized the thinking of many saving-conscious proponents when he said it was “simply inexcusable and wasteful to allow school facilities to sit idle and unused for up to three months of the year.”
In Los Angeles, however, the driving force behind the move toward year-round schools is a burgeoning enrollment that has taxed the capacity of the system’s facilities base.
Faced with a 55,000-seat shortfall in classroom space in 1986, the board voted to gradually convert the district to a year-round schedule by 1991. In 1987, it voted to accelerate that schedule, making al1 schools year-round by 1989.
But after an outcry from parents over possible child-care and family disruptions, the board scuttled that plan later in the year, and returned to its policy of adding year-round schools as needed.
Next week, it will be considering other options for easing overcrowding, such as extending the school year, increasing class size, and re-opening closed schools.
But several board members predicted last week that some form of year-round schooling would be adopted at the meeting.
“We’ll probably vote to go year-round on some kind of phase-in schedule,” said Jackie Goldberg, the board’s president, who represents an area of the district where dozens of schools already operate on a year-round schedule. In all, 102 of the district’s more than 600 schools use year-round schedules.
Changing the entire district’s schedule “will not be easy,” Ms. Goldberg acknowledged. But she and others on the board said the population pressures make it practically a necessity.
In the past, said Mark Slavkin, “we knew the growth was coming; the problem was, the growth wasn’t there that day.”
Today, he said, overwhelming enrollment growth is here “right now.”
The district’s student population now stands at about 610,000 and is expected to increase by as much as 15,000 next year. Approximately 120,000 students already attend year-round schools.
Under the comprehensive year-round plan being considered, students would attend school for two 18- week semesters with six weeks off between semesters and two weeks for the Christmas holidays. The 18-week schedules would be staggered, however, so that no more than three-quarters of the student population would be in school at any one time.
Interest and Activity Elsewhere
The Los Angeles plan would be the largest at the district level, if implemented, but its concept is by no means novel.
According to Charles Ballinger, executive director of the National Association for Year-Round Education, 630 schools nationwide, representing some 110 districts, currently operate on a year-round schedule. These school enroll about 524,000 students, he said, which represents a 19 percent increase from the number enrolled in year-round programs at the beginning of the 1988-89 school year.
“Year-round education is an idea which has come of age,” Mr. Ballinger said. “I think we’ll see some kind of year-round education in most of America’s schools by the turn of the century.”
Utah, which has the fastest growing school-age population in the nation, has the largest percentage of year-round schools, according to Mr. Ballinger, who calls Gov. Norman H. Bangerter a “strong advocate.”
The Utah legislature has passed a law encouraging districts to go to year-round schedules to receive more state money for construction.
The Texas board’s endorsement of the concept has led to debate there that is sure to spillover to the Texas legislature’s deliberations on revamping the state’s school-finance formula, which begin next month.
Interest in year-round schools is also increasing on the local level, according to Mr. Ballinger. Scores of districts in Florida, Idaho, New Mexico, and Washington State have adopted or are in the process of adopting year-round schedules.
Terms of Debate
Mr. Deukmejian’s call for incentives for year-round schooling in California has yet to be fleshed out with details. But his remarks to the legislature echoed the central argument for year-round schooling advanced by proponents in many locales. They make their case mainly in terms of resources--or the lack of them.
California, for example, is expected to gain about 160,000 students per year over the next six years, according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Bill Honig.
“We’re talking huge growth here,” Mr. Honig said. “If we’re going to have that much construction, it only makes sense to get the maximum use out of the buildings.”
School officials in Los Angeles voiced similar concerns.
“Our argument is primarily driven by crowding,” said Gordon Wohlers, the administrator in charge of classroom space. “If we don’t do anything at the elementary level, we won’t have enough seats, districtwide, for elementary students next year.”
Some elementary students already take 90-minute bus rides to school each day, he noted.
“We’re still getting more and more youngsters, and it’s becoming a more urgent problem,” said Rita Walters, a board member, of the overcrowding. “The kids are here. It’s not a question of who’s coming.”
Noticeably absent from the Los Angeles debate, observers said, has been a discussion of what many experts consider to be the instructional benefits of year-round schooling, particularly for so-called “at risk” students.
“One of the reasons we’ve had so much resistance in the past is because we’re not talking enough about the instructional purposes” of year-round schools, said Ms. Goldberg. “Now we have a credibility gap.”
Some researchers, such as those with the Philadelphia-based nonprofit group Public/Private Ventures, have documented what they say is a “summer slippage” academically among children in at-risk populations. Because these children lack the home and community source for reinforcing what they have learned in school, the researchers report, they lose much of the year’s achievement over the long summer break.
But others, such as Wayne Johnson, president of the United Teachers of Los Angeles, claim the instructional advantages of year-round schools-at least in Los Angeles have never been adequately proven.
“It really doesn’t make that much difference [whether students attend year-round schools],” he said. Student-achievement scores are not higher in areas of the district where year-round schools are in operation.
In Utah, however, a Brigham Young University professor, Adrian VanMondfrans, recently completed a study showing greater gains on test scores for year-round students than for those on the traditional schedule.
And this month, a national coalition based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Quality Education for Minorities Project, recommended after a two-and-a-half- year research effort that minority students receive year-round schooling at least once every three years. (See Education Week, Jan. 10, 1990).
Administrators in Los Angeles offer, in addition, anecdotal evidence that year-round schooling may be beneficial to teachers as well.
“The teachers here love it,” said Mona Kantor, principal of the year-round Arlington Heights Elementary School in central Los Angeles. “They get their breaks just when they are most needed.”
In Orange County, Fla., where three year-round schools are scheduled to open this summer, the teachers union formed a task force to study year-round systems in other states.
“Initially, the teachers were generally negative,” said George Segna, executive director of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. “But the more they learned about it, the more positive they became.”
Still, many parents and public officials resist the notion of year-round schools.
According to Cecelia Mansfield, president of the Parent-Teachers Association for the 10th district in Los Angeles, the group is having trouble forging a consensus on the issue of districtwide year-round schools.
“We’re struggling to find a position,” she said last week. The group was scheduled to make recommendations to the school board this week.
Ms. Mansfield cited several problem areas: the lack of air-conditioning in many schools, the fear by some parents with children in several schools that they may end up on different schedules, and questions about the availability of child-care services.
“There are just a lot of unknowns,” Ms. Mansfield said.
Mr. Slavkin of the school board said that he was “not convinced” the board needs to adopt a year-round schedule for the entire district yet.
He and Julie Korenstein, also a board member, have said that decisions on whether or not to go year-round--and on what schedule--should be left to individual schools.
Ms. Walters, however, rejected that notion. Overcrowding is a problem for the entire district, she said, and the entire district must adopt a year-round schedule to solve it.
“The question isn’t whether we go on a year-round calendar,” noted Ms. Goldberg. “The question is whether the rest of the district will join us.”