The Making of Education's Boondoggle of the 1990s : Schools: Year-round scheduling really means fewer classroom days and less learning. We need a longer academic year--and more classrooms.

Harry C. Weinberg is superintendent of the Valley Center Union School District in San Diego County.

In his State of the State address, Gov. George Deukmejian offered various incentives to school districts to implement year-round schedules. If districts take up the governor's offer, they would be committing the education boondoggle of the 1990s. Year-round scheduling is a Band-Aid solution to the state's critical shortage of classrooms.

In calling for more year-round scheduling, the governor ignores not only the advice contained in the national "A Nation at Risk" and Carnegie reports but also the suggestions of his own commission on educational quality. The common theme of these studies is that American students don't spend enough time in school. Japanese students, with whom American pupils are frequently and unfavorably compared, spend 200 days a year in the classroom. By contrast, California students, on average, attend class 180 days a year.

Year-round scheduling, despite what the term implies, does not necessarily mean that students will spend more days in school. In practice, days in the classroom are often fewer. For example, some California districts have adopted a year-round schedule that calls for 163 days in the classroom. Although these districts have added more classroom minutes to the school day, the students are out of school, on average, 202 days a year.

Educators know that massed learning (a shorter year) is not as effective as spaced learning (a longer year). Put another way, when the teaching of complex subjects is jammed into a shorter period of time, students tend to retain less. Year-round scheduling, unfortunately, creates such circumstances.

Does it make sense to decrease the number of days that students attend school? Common sense says no. Children already have too much unstructured time on their hands.

But educators are forced to make these decisions because of a lack of classroom space.

In the end, all that year-round schools accomplish is to squeeze more children into existing facilities. It postpones the critical problem of classroom shortage until the next administration in Sacramento settles in, time we cannot afford to lose. That's hardly a recipe for academic excellence.

What's needed is a longer school year that would begin Sept. 1 and end after the first week in July. Teachers would work 210 days a year (it's time teaching was made a true year-round profession). They would devote at least two weeks to program planning and meetings with their colleagues. That would still leave ample time away from the classroom. The remainder of July might be used by students who need to take remedial courses, while others might volunteer for enrichment activities (art and music, for example) sponsored by the district. During August, annual school maintenance would be conducted, and teachers could begin their planning for the coming academic year.

Admittedly, Gov. Deukmejian is faced with a $6-billion deficit in the state's school-building program. But widespread year-round scheduling, though a tempting and inexpensive solution, would not solve the central, and growing, problem of classroom shortage.

We know the governor is sincere in his commitment to education. To make California's students more competitive nationally and internationally, he should propose incentives for districts to extend their regular school year on a gradual basis, aiming for a 200-day calendar by 2000. Such a public school system would be one of the finest in the nation, a shining star on the Pacific Rim.

Jamming students into existing school facilities and lengthening their day in the classroom will not prepare them for the economic competition that is sure to grow more intense during their working years.

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