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Whom Do School Furlough Days Hurt the Most?

Education experts and researchers around Orange County decry proposed furlough days, saying low-income and low achieving students will suffer the most.

As public school districts around Orange County and California struggle to balance their budgets, the proposed solution of a shortened school year as a way to save millions is front and center.

Teachers and their pay cuts aside, what happens to students when several school days are eliminated and they sit at home instead of in a classroom? How are students hurt by fewer instructional days? And, which groups of students are impacted the most?

Prompted by , scores of school districts around California are considering teacher furlough days for 2012-13 as the primary vehicle to bridge budget shortfalls. 

 is looking to. 

The and is proposing 13 furlough days and other cuts, including a small salary rollback if the tax measure fails. The teachers’ union wants 15 furlough days if the Brown measure fails and no salary rollback.

Either way, it’s likely a significant number of school days will be cut.

“Every student is impacted by that change. The United States already has students in school less days than all the countries we compete with, and now we’re cutting more days,” said Louise Adler, a professor of Educational Leadership at California State University, Fullerton and a former high school teacher.

Adler noted that many foreign counties have longer school years than the U.S. and that during a student’s entire school career, these foreign students have accumulated a year of more of schooling than their American counterparts.

“It is the worst possible way to improve our standing on those tests of competency, compared with other countries,” Adler said of furlough days.

“It’s like we’ve decided to disinvest in the future of people who are supposed to grow our economy and grow our culture," she said. "The message is it hurts everyone. It hurts everybody in the whole state. In essence we’re eating our seed corn here. We’re disinvesting in our future.”

Well-off parents can afford to provide enrichment programs for their children while they are home during the extended summer break, but lower-income students and students with learning handicaps are especially harmed, she added.

Bill Habermehl, the superintendent of Orange County Department of Education, who retires this summer after 46 years in education, agreed.

"There’s no doubt that students who are trying to catch up or are behind a little bit are hurt the most. You’re going to be getting less in return out of the students,” no matter how hard they work, Habermehl said.

According to Habermehl, especially hurt are

  • English language learners
  • Students who are behind or struggling
  • Students from a home with working parents who are not home to help with schoolwork
  • Kids from single-parent homes

“Homework is not just going home and completing the questions at the end of the chapter. You really need somebody to review that,” he said.

The negative impact of lopping off days at the end of the year is especially noticeable when students return to school the following fall and require more review, Haberhmehl said.

The “forgetting curve is huge,” he said, and it’s worse for low achievers.

Echoing Adler’s concerns about how American students stack up against their foreign counterparts, Habermehl quoted a study that found 53 percent of a teacher’s time in an eighth grade math class is spent on review in the U.S., compared to 24 percent in Japan and Hong Kong, 34 percent in Switzerland and 36 percent in Australia.

“That’s terrible,” he said. “We’re spending twice as much time not on learning new material but reviewing what kids have forgotten.”

Joseph L. Mahoney, a professor in UC Irvine’s Department of Education, said research shows that extending the length of summer break hurts all children in many ways, especially low-income children.

“In this country, summer is a season of risk for kids,” Mahoney said, and especially for low-income students, who research shows lose more reading achievement and math skills than their better-off peers. “We would never solve the achievement gap unless we deal with summer.”

Child obesity is yet another risk. Mahoney said studies show that weight gain is twice as high over summer break than it is during the school year. “The reality for a lot of these kids is they don’t have a lot to do, and they are indoors and passive with lots of opportunities to eat.”

Habermehl said it would help if school districts revisited the schedule for the calendar year, held low-cost online summer school or promoted more independent study.

“We now have technology. Kids can do a lot of things on remote sites where teachers can post lessons. Education should not be a bricks-and-mortar, 40-kids-in-class concept,” he said.

On the other hand, Adler, a former school board member in the in the 1980s, said cutting teacher pay alone isn’t a viable solution either. Districts would have to break union contracts, creating legal problems, and salary cuts without furlough days would drive the best teachers from education.

“Who will go will be the people that are more entrepreneurial, smarter and more aggressive, the ones we want to keep,” she said.

Don Cardinal, a former teacher and dean of the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University, agreed that while furlough days hurt students, they hurt teachers’ families too. Teachers, he said, are concerned about their salaries being cut just like many other professionals these days, and it’s important to consider the health of the teaching profession by offering decent pay to draw good teachers.

The California Teachers Association supports Brown’s tax measure. An article on the CTA website says, “It is the only funding initiative that takes care of the whole state by closing the budget deficit and paying down the state’s wall of debt. ... If the initiative fails, public education is facing an additional $5 billion in budget cuts next year. This initiative is a balanced solution.”

Cardinal said, “There is no ideal of solution here. The draining of funds from public schools in the last decade is absolutely massive.”

CUSD Parents Are Selfish @55h0|35 June 20, 2012 at 04:11 AM
Yeah, why can't these greedy teachers just work for free? I mean jeez, someone's gotta make a sacrifice to educate these kids. The teachers have to do it! If they don't then the only other choice is for the parents to pay higher taxes and that's totally unfair! It's the teachers' responsibility to teach these kids! They wanted to be teachers, so they should teach.
CUSD Parents Are Selfish @55h0|35 June 20, 2012 at 04:35 AM
@Panglonymous RIGHT ON! The vast majority of the posters on this forum are the first to wave their flags, declare their patriotism, shed a (crocodile) tear for the 9/11 first-responders (i.e., cops & firefighters) and slap church-related bumper stickers on their cars. But if you read and listen and think, you cannot come to any conclusion other than that these people are the least Christian and the most un-American. Their willingness to turn on teachers, firefighters, and police is especially despicable. Teachers, firefighters and police should make sacrifices, but heaven forbid, these parents should be asked to pay more taxes FOR THEIR KIDS EDUCATION!!!! Teachers, firefighters, and police? Mitt Romney says we don't need 'em.
cusd mom June 20, 2012 at 04:56 PM
CUSD parents care deeply about their kids, their schools, and the employees who teach them. They support their kids' education by volunteering in the classroom, and donating money as well as their time. I needed to respond to the moniker "CUSD Parents Are Selfish@55h0/35 to remove his post from the front page of the education section of this site. Done:) and No More Taxes!!!!!
OC Mom June 20, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Here's some prophetic quotes from recently deceased Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451, tell me if they sound familiar? Page 55: "School is shortened, discipline relaxed, philosphies, histories, languages dropped, English and spelling gradually neglected, finally almost completely ignored. Life is immediate, the job counts, pleasure lies all about after work. Why learn anything save pressing buttons, pulling switches, fitting nuts and bolts?" Page 61: "If the government is inefficient, topheavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it."
Yeparoo June 20, 2012 at 10:36 PM
@ OC Mom - IDK, I think the next few years will be less cerebral, and perhaps a little more intensely personal than Ray Bradbury's musings. I was thinking because the monopoly money has run dry, lots of people will feel the passion Jerry McGuire displayed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBS0OWGUidc

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