Year-Round Discontent at Hollywood High
Hollywood High School keeps its doors open 12 months a year to ease overcrowding. The year-round schedule allows the campus to run hundreds more students through its cramped classrooms. It also chips away at their education.
Teachers skip pages of material, assign less homework and give fewer tests because their school year has been slashed by 17 days.
Hundreds of pupils take the Stanford 9 exam shortly after returning from an eight-week vacation. Others will take the state’s new high school exit exam just two days after they return from their winter break.
Many teenagers can’t get critical summer internships and jobs that look good on college applications because they’re in school, while others must return to campus during their vacations to participate in extracurricular activities such as band and yearbook.
Ask nearly any teacher at Hollywood High whether students are getting a first-class education and the answer is a resounding no.
“If you wanted to destroy public schools, you’d start with year-round schedules,” said English teacher Richard Cunningham.
Hollywood High offers a glimpse into the future of education in Los Angeles.
Within five years, every high school in L.A. Unified must convert to a schedule like Hollywood High’s, casualties of explosive growth and the district’s failure to build schools. More than half of middle-schools will have to run year-round.
Twelve-month schedules have become a primary solution to overcrowding in a growing number of districts because they allow schools to serve additional students in shortened, overlapping terms.
Use of the year-round calendar has grown steadily in Los Angeles over two decades. L.A. Unified now has more year-round campuses than New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and Houston combined.
The experience at Hollywood High shows how multitrack schedules present students with hurdles that do not exist at other schools. The setbacks, while not crippling on their own, take a cumulative toll on learning, spawning what many call a two-tiered system of education.
“In a well-intentioned effort to solve overcrowding, we have exacerbated inequities in schools,” said Jeannie Oakes, associate dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. “People with more privilege and political clout don’t want their children in these schools.”
California has 1,035 multitrack campuses serving more than 1 million students, primarily in poor and minority communities. Most multitrack calendars are found at the elementary level.
In those grades, studies have shown a mixed impact on achievement. Little analysis has been done on the effect of year-round schedules at middle and high schools, perhaps because so few exist outside Los Angeles.
But among those who have experienced the impact, it’s hard to find defenders of multitrack, year-round education, particularly when it comes to secondary schools.
Los Angeles schools Supt. Roy Romer calls year-round calendars a “handicap” for students, an opinion shared by Hollywood High’s principal.
When asked to cite the advantages of the year-round schedule at her campus, Floria Anderson Trimble offered just two: Teachers can earn extra money working during their vacations, and those whose breaks land in the spring or fall can travel during off-peak periods.
“As far as I’m concerned, the year-round calendar is not an optimum learning situation,” Trimble said.
Hollywood High senior Walkiria Quiroa agrees. The aspiring high school teacher began her eight-week vacation in late October, right in the middle of college application season.
Quiroa is missing a chance to meet recruiters, whose visits are well publicized on campus. If she were in school, she could walk down the hall to the college advisor’s office and get help filling out her application for Cal State Northridge.
“When you’re not there, you don’t hear what’s going on,” said Quiroa, a B student who transferred to Hollywood High from a parochial school. “I should have gone to a private high school.”
Yohanna Figueroa worries that her vacation in January and February will cost her valuable time to prepare for Advanced Placement exams in the spring.
With a 3.5 grade point average and half a dozen AP courses on her transcripts, she is setting her sights on USC. High AP scores could earn Figueroa college credit and save her thousands of dollars in tuition. With so much at stake, she plans to spend her eight-week vacation at school studying with friends.
“It would be easier if we were like everyone else,” she said. “The playing field would be level.”
Civil rights advocates are trying to level the playing field through the courts.
In a lawsuit filed in May, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that tens of thousands of poor and minority students in California are denied an equal education because they attend schools that lack adequate resources and operate on multitrack calendars. The lawsuit cited the shorter school year at high schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere as a primary obstacle to learning.
The suit did not target the state’s 482 year-round schools that keep all students on a single track. In those schools, children take several shorter vacations in place of the long summer break. That schedule is advocated by officials who say long vacations hinder learning.
Leading educators say the lawsuit’s attack on multitrack schools casts a spotlight on a pressing issue that has attracted little public attention.
“Why aren’t these schools everywhere?” asked Eugene Garcia, dean of the Graduate School of Education at UC Berkeley. “In the suburbs, we make arrangements. We build facilities.”
Statewide, the poverty rate in multitrack schools is nearly double the rate at campuses on traditional calendars. The rate of students still learning English is nearly three times greater.
L.A. Unified’s year-round students are among the neediest in the state. Nearly all qualify for federal lunch assistance, the leading indicator of poverty among schoolchildren. Almost two-thirds are still learning English.
The multitrack schedule was introduced in Los Angeles at a single school a quarter-century ago as a temporary fix for overcrowding. Today year-round campuses account for more than one-third of the district’s regular schools.
According to the latest state data, L.A. Unified is the only district in California that runs high schools on staggered, year-round schedules, with one exception. Vista Unified in San Diego County has one charter school on a multitrack schedule.
The Los Angeles district also has relied on busing to relieve overcrowding. But as an enrollment bulge moves up the grades, officials will be forced to expand the year-round program.
Eighteen of L.A. Unified’s 49 high schools are year-round, and district officials say the remaining 31 will follow by 2006. Similarly, 17 of 72 middle schools are year-round, but officials expect the number to more than double in the next five years.
The district is developing an ambitious school construction program that calls for 15 new high schools and seven new middle schools over the next five years. But those 33,000 new seats will hardly keep pace with growth, and plans call for those campuses to run year-round.
Hollywood High is one of the latest to join the club. It switched in 1994, after more than 90 years on a traditional calendar. As a crowded urban high school, Hollywood faces many problems regardless of its schedule. But the calendar here, as at other year-round schools, creates another layer of difficulty.
2 Tracks in Session, 1 on Vacation
The cramped, 13-acre campus sits a block from the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Mann’s Chinese Theatre. Busloads of tourists mix with students on the sidewalks around the Sunset Boulevard campus, where Mickey Rooney, Carol Burnett and dozens of other celebrities attended school.
Like most year-round campuses in Los Angeles, Hollywood High divides students into three staggered tracks. Two are in session at a time while one is on vacation. The rotating schedule has allowed the school of about 3,000 students to increase its capacity by 41%--nearly 900 extra students.
But squeezing three tracks onto the campus has required the school to pare 17 days from its calendar. It has made up the difference by adding 39 minutes to each day. That amounts to 6 1/2 extra minutes per class.
Teachers dismiss the additional time as logistic sleight-of-hand with little educational value. Students, they say, can’t concentrate through class periods that now run 62 minutes.
“They chopped up the days and minutes but weren’t thinking about the consequences,” said chemistry teacher Patricia Barker. “Just because you have a couple more minutes added onto class doesn’t mean you can do more.”
Standing in her classroom on a recent day, amid sinks without running water and gas valves that didn’t work, Barker ticked off the topics she won’t have time to cover this year: biochemistry, organic chemistry, chemical equilibrium, the electron’s role in the atom.
“My students are not being exposed to material that will allow them to achieve,” said Barker, whose classroom is still overcrowded with 40 students, some sitting on counter tops, stools and at her desk.
“The kids are like my clients,” she said. “I’m doing them a disservice. I feel so frustrated.”
Teachers also complain about losing several days reviewing work from the previous term each time students return from the two eight-week vacations. It’s not uncommon to start the year with a review; the difference at Hollywood High is that it happens more often.
Some instructors say the more frequent breaks are rejuvenating, keeping them fresh in the classroom.
“I constantly recharge the battery,” said English teacher Janie Chapman. “Academically,” she added, “it’s not ideal.”
The complexities and tight schedules of a year-round calendar lead to other problems.
Teachers must change classrooms every time they come back from vacation. Some must change classrooms in the course of a single school day because of the lack of space, storing their supplies in the trunks of their cars.
Maintenance is difficult to schedule when school is nearly always in session. Grass can’t grow on much of the football field because it’s constantly in use, turning it into a hard patch of dirt in summer and a wet slog in winter.
Getting books into students’ hands also becomes more difficult. The school took several days to collect and tally textbooks from students who went on break Oct. 24. The next track started class Oct. 25, giving officials little time to redistribute the materials.
On the first day back, Chapman’s 11th-graders were waiting for their class novel: John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men.” Chapman let the students chat quietly as she took roll. Then, without anything for them to read, she offered to talk about her recent trip to Egypt.
“You guys, we don’t have our books. We won’t get them until Friday,” Chapman told the class on a Wednesday. “So sit back and relax. Since we don’t have books, I’m going to show you my slides.”
Many of Hollywood’s students have only known year-round schedules because they came from crowded elementary and middle schools.
Several students said they’re happy at Hollywood. Some are grateful for the opportunities to make up classes during vacations. Others like the school’s menu of specialized programs.
“I came to Hollywood because of the acting,” said Andrew Farkas-Jones, who travels from the Westside to attend the school’s Performing Arts Magnet.
“People say that Hollywood High is not a good school for academics, but we don’t miss out on learning,” said the senior, who dreams of becoming a professional actor but also speaks of attending a community college or UCLA. “Teachers do a really good job. I can’t really complain.”
Still, teachers and administrators worry that the schedule fragments the school, creating three campuses in one. The tracks act like fault lines, fracturing students by abilities and talents.
The A track includes the arts magnet and closely resembles the traditional September to June calendar. B track is home to students who are still learning English. C track encompasses the New Media Academy, a program that teaches high-tech skills such as how to produce computerized videos.
Administrators freely acknowledge that the schedule creates inequities within the school. They say B track is the biggest loser, even questioning whether it is “academically sound.”
The track offers fewer honors and Advanced Placement courses than the other two, a gap the school is trying to close. B track students also have had to take the Stanford 9 exam just three days after returning from eight weeks of vacation. Beginning next spring, these students will take the Stanford 9 about 3 1/2 weeks after returning from vacation, the result of new state rules that push back the testing dates.
Teachers welcome the additional time, but they say the students still won’t be as prepared as others at the school.
“How can you expect these kids to be on the same par as kids who have been in school all semester?” asked Trimble, the principal. “It’s criminal.”
B track suffers one additional detriment: more disruptions during the year. While the two tracks are in session for 16 weeks and then are off for eight, B track goes on vacation after only eight weeks of school, in the middle of its term. Students with a limited command of English say the stop-and-start schedule interferes with their progress.
“It would be much better if we didn’t have this system,” said junior Jaman Ymeri, a Kosovar Albanian who has been in the United States about a year.
Television is Ymeri’s teacher during his vacations. He practices English by watching videotapes of his favorite films, the Indiana Jones movies and “Braveheart.”
He also reads the closed-caption words that run across the screen of his television. It’s about the most English he gets at home, where his family primarily speaks Albanian.
“If I were in school,” he said, “I would probably learn more and do better.”