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Los Angeles Unified discussing 200-day school year


Students in Los Angeles Unified would have one of the longest school years among urban districts if a trustee's proposal is approved. Credit: LAUSD, Selma Avenue Elementary School

The first day of school will come a lot sooner for students at Selma Avenue Elementary and others if LAUSD extends the school year. Credit: LAUSD

Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest school district, is discussing extending its academic year by 20 days, a $300 million proposal that would give Los Angeles the longest school year, at 200 days, of any large urban district in the nation. 

Extending class time and the length of the school year is gaining increasing attention as educators seek new ways to improve student performance, and any extension would put Los Angeles at the forefront of the national effort. The potential benefits of a longer school year were outlined in the 1983 A Nation at Risk report, which ushered in the modern era of education reform. The report recommended that schools move to between 200 and 220 school days, but no state has come close to that number. Most, like LAUSD, offer a 180-day instructional year.

“If LAUSD does move forward with a plan to add significantly more time to their school calendar, the district will emerge as one of the national leaders in the movement to expand learning time,” said Jennifer Davis, cofounder and president of the National Center on Time & Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit that promotes extended learning.

But the proposal faces formidable foes, including Superintendent John Deasy and the teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

Deasy wants to address the district’s structural deficit before considering additional costly proposals, and United Teachers Los Angeles is lobbying the district to use funds available under the new school finance system to rehire 549 educators who lost their permanent positions during the recession.

“Right now we still have schools where they have English and science classes with between 40 and 50 students in them,” said Warren Fletcher, president of the L.A. teachers union. Now that the district has survived the “budget hurricane,” he said, “We might want to make sure we have a roof before we talk about adding a den.”

Fletcher also noted that philosophically he is not opposed to an extended school year, but there has to be a plan in place about how those days are going to be used.

“There isn’t some sort of magic to adding three or five days – you have to have a structure,” he said. “The idea isn’t fully baked.”

ExpandedLearningTimeFinalBoard member Mónica García submitted the resolution for a longer school year in May, when she was board president. Board members Tamar Galatzan and Nury Martinez also sponsored García’s resolution, which the board passed in June, asking the superintendent to examine the feasibility of the idea. The board’s make-up changed after a March election, and Martinez is no longer on the board; Galatzan, who remains on the board, has declined to comment on the proposal. Board president Richard Vladovic did not respond to requests for comment.

The original resolution called for the superintendent to prepare a report on the extended school year proposal and deliver it to the board by mid-October. However, the superintendent only prepared a cost analysis in a Sept. 10 report about all the spending proposals suggested by board members. The extended-year proposal will now be part of ongoing budget discussions, García said.

The resolution to extend the school year would cost about $15 million for each additional day, according to district estimates. García is proposing that the current 180-day year be extended by nine days in 2014-15 and an additional 11 days by 2015-16.

Davis and others, however, say it’s important that the district develop a specific plan for how the additional days will be used. Often, piloting the program at a few schools makes sense, she added.

“We recommend that districts be strategic and thoughtful and have a planning period to maximize the impact of the extended time,” Davis said. “The impact is strongest when that time is focused on supporting individual student learning needs and allowing time for teacher collaboration.”

‘More time on task’

The longer school year would put Los Angeles ahead of other urban districts, according to data from the National Center on Time & Learning.

Atlanta, Boston and Chicago public schools all have a 180-day school year, while Detroit schools meet for 174 days and Denver schools for 173 days. The District of Columbia has a 185-day year and Cincinnati has a 183-day year. However, many large urban districts have seven-hour school days, while Los Angeles Unified has an average day of a little more than six hours, which wouldn’t change under the proposal.

The money to pay for the extended year would come from funds generated from voter-approved Proposition 30 and the new school finance system, the Local Control Funding Formula, which directs additional funds to districts, such as Los Angeles, with high-needs students. In addition, under the waiver that Los Angeles and a coalition of other districts received from the federal No Child Left Behind law, funds formerly set aside for tutoring can be used for other purposes.

García said she floated her resolution as board members discussed other ways to spend the money, including reducing class sizes, adding more counselors and rehiring laid-off staff.

Los Angeles Unified School District Board Member Monica Garcia

Board member Mónica García. Credit: LAUSD

“In the thinking of what is possible, we have to include what it would take to give students more time on task,” García said, adding that a less expensive approach to extending learning time would be to use the four days now set aside for staff development as regular school days. “It’s part of ongoing conversations about how to get the district to move faster, to not just put back what was lost (during the recession), but to create a new culture and a focus.”

Traditional district schools are facing competition from KIPP charter schools, which have 1 ½ more hours per school day, and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which recently increased its school year to 200 days, García said. KIPP has some of the best performing schools in the state, she noted.

Los Angeles Unified is not alone.

“Districts across the country are feeling the pressure of the charter school movement,” Davis said.

Maria Brenes, executive director of InnerCity Struggle, which organizes East Los Angeles communities, supports the idea of an extended school year in the context of building community schools. Such schools provide support for students and their families beyond the classroom through on-campus counseling and health centers, internships and promotion of the arts.

“To be able to implement the vision fully, we have to be able to extend the school year and school day,” Brenes said. “We need more planning time for faculty so there is an alignment between instruction and what is happening outside the classroom so every student is well served and well tracked.”

Maria León, whose daughter, Genesis, is in ninth grade at Garfield High School on the Eastside, said through a translator that she supports a longer day as well as a longer year, particularly for students who need tutoring or counseling support.

“Over the years, I have seen thousands of students who are struggling who give up,” she said. “Others miraculously catch up and graduate. If there was extra support, perhaps a lot more could come back academically.”

Getting the most from a longer year

As Los Angeles wraps the extended-year proposal into budget discussions, one superintendent who has seen success in a longer year says focusing on the cost is the wrong approach.

“Once you set your priorities, you will find the resources to meet them,” said Jeffrey Smith, superintendent of Balsz Elementary School District in Phoenix, which serves more than 2,700 students in grades K through 8 and has had a 200-day school year since 2009-10. Smith took over the failing district in 2008-09 and instituted a series of reforms, including extending the school year.

Smith’s district is an example of how to get the most from extended learning. The proportion of students who have passed state reading tests has gone from 51 percent in 2008-09 to 65 percent in 2012-13. Math achievement has also steadily increased since a new statewide math test was introduced in 2010-11.

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Students, such as this girl in Balsz Elementary district in Phoenix, go to school for 200 days each year. Most school years are 180 days. Credit: Balsz Elementary School District

Smith reorganized professional development so that it occurred during the regular school day, making prep time the same for all teachers in a subject area to allow for collaboration. While teachers from core subjects such as math or English are collaborating, students take art, music or physical education classes.

Smith also maximized the pre-testing calendar, starting school in late July instead of August so there were more days before the state tests in the first week of May. A long summer or even summer school – shutting school down and reopening it for a few weeks – is not an efficient use of building resources, Smith said. Students in his district have only a six-week summer vacation, reducing summer learning loss.

“We are now seeing tremendous gains,” Smith said, particularly for English as a Second Language students. He said that the percentage of English learners who no longer need special English language support almost doubled between 2008-09 and 2011-12, going from 20 percent to 39 percent.

Smith had the advantage of an Arizona law that provides 5 percent more funding to districts that extend the school year by 20 days. That additional funding plus a property tax increase allowed the district to not only extend the school year, but also give teachers a 9 percent raise.

Having a clear vision and producing positive results has attracted dedicated teachers and support from nonprofits and foundations, Smith said.

“What are we here for – to change kids’ lives, get them college and career ready,” he said. By extending the school year, “we have added an extra year of instruction to meet that goal.”

This report is one of a series of reports on expanded learning time supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation as part of  of a multi-city reporting project by EdSource and EdNews Colorado, EdSource Today, GothamSchools and the Philadelphia Public School Notebook.

Sue Frey covers expanded learning time. Contact her.

Filed under: Expanded Learning, Reforms

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11 Responses to “Los Angeles Unified discussing 200-day school year”

  1. unknown said

    on June 11, 2014 at 8:35 am

    here are a few reasons why there shouldn’t be a 200 day school year
    -stress
    -overwhelming
    -sports
    -children have hard social lives and they can’t wait to get out of school
    -studies prove if you are learning for long periods of time, you loose the information you just learned and you can’t process more
    -its useless
    -a parents time =stress for everyone
    -healthy. when you are upset its scientifically proven that you can live a shorter amount of time than the average time. depression from school can lead to suisidle thoughts and obeseness .
    -will it really help?

  2. Jim said

    on October 16, 2013 at 9:09 am

    Parent support is easy to get. Lets face it, school is the cheapest daycare there is for a parent. Longer hours and more days equates to more free time for mom and dad as well as more access to over time, and less hassle from the boss for leaving early to pickup the kids.

    The other half of parents at my school don’t like more hours or more days because it will interfere with after school sports. Heaven forbid that education should interfere with sports.

    Now I work at a private school where parents dig down deep into their wallet to pay for school. When we presented 200 days the parents balked at taking another financial hit.

    Now the use of the extra time; I know of a couple of school that have used their extra days to add cooking, music and shop classes. That’s great for babysitting but does not make the best use of the extra time if the concern is the quality of education and test scores (which seems to always be the driving force). The Super at LAUSD is right that a plan for the extra days and how to effectively use them should come first.

    Finally, where is the input from child physiologists on the impact, stress and burnout from these extra hours and days. I have kids who come in now and are burned out by noon and Junior High kids who are mentally done with school by April. We use every trick in the book to engage and excite these kids. But lets face facts, the driving force in education is the interest of the students. What kid wants to go get up early and go to school. It’s interesting that the suits never seem to involve the students themselves in the discussion or process. I talk candidly with my students and listen to their input. They have great ideas. Ask yourself this question; when was the last time a school board member or any policy maker sat in a primary grade or high school classroom as a student. Perhaps they forgot what it was like now that they are in the ivory tower. You want to fix education…talk to a kid and ask them what they think. I think you will be surprised.

  3. Vladimir said

    on October 14, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Why not extend the school year to 300 days…? Your logic is; more school days better education!
    WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!
    Just look at the European system, where by the way, I graduated from.
    I came to this immigrated to this country legally, without a single word English in my vocabulary. attended school in Croatia with 41 other students per teacher per class with 15% of the budget of LAUSD, HOWEVER, no unions, no tenure, no lack of money excuses, for lousy performance, just personal responsibility by the teachers, students and parents.
    I knoooow, it’s just too much to ask for common sense…so you decide to use a comment, such as the one posted, into a valid consideration that warrants a quote;
    Some one, whom is in this country for so many years and is able to see, THOUSANDS OF STUDENTS GIVE UP, but needs a translator to express her self!
    So Maria León (accent, no less), is a part of your justification for extending school days… GIVE US A BREAK AND BRING THIS SYSTEM BACK TO OUR FOREFATHERS COMMON SENSE! STOP THE EXCUSES AND TAKE RESPONSIBILITIES THAT COME WITH THE JOB OR GIVE IT TO SOMEONE WHOM WILL!
    That’s all I haver to say about that!

    • Carlos replied

      on February 12, 2014 at 12:03 pm

      A recent study places Croatia 48th out of 215 in terms of literacy; the U.S. is 26th. Croatian has a ratio of 13 students to one teacher (average); the U.S. has 15. But we of course know that this is just an average number, there are HUGE disparities within the systems. The point is that when you read a report, you are getting a glimpse of something and cannot possibly understand the entirety of the situation. The U.S. is struggling with education our bottom half of the population, but so is every country. And when you look at the U.S.– A country with the a huge immigration influx (we have the most Salvadoreans, Koreans, Chinese, Mexicans, Guatemalans, etc…you begin to understand why an educational system might show to be struggling to address the needs of SOME students. I welcome you to my classroom or any classroom in my school where the majority of OUR high school students are coming into the geographic area as immigrants and they only studied in their country until 2nd or third grade and then we can have a meaningful discussion about RESOURCES of a lack thereof. I am not speaking about one out of 100 students, I am speaking of my particular school’s entire population. I am pretty sure Japan is not dealing with educating 15 year olds who do not know how to read of write or add and subtract. Why? Because very few developed countries in the world take in millions of immigrants every year, many of which have received sub par education. I am not complaining, I love my job, just pointing out some interesting information.

  4. Bruce William Smith said

    on October 3, 2013 at 7:51 pm

    Messrs Deasy and Fletcher are right: L.A. Unified should first eliminate its structural deficit and then get its class sizes down before it embarks on yet another expensive (albeit worthy) proposal. The district appears to be on a spending spree, which may not make the best impression on taxpayers, especially in light of the snafus associated with its iPad roll-out. If it spends itself into a new deficit, or continues with its old one even after its recent major funding increase, it is very unlikely to be able to escape any new problems with another tax increase or bond issuance. And its students will struggle mightily with the new Common Core assessments if they don’t improve their writing, and they will likely need real, live, paid teachers to develop this skill.

    • Manuel replied

      on October 4, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Mr. Smith, there is this belief among the public and many officials that Prop 30 and LCFF solved all the funding problems. They didn’t.

      That has not stopped the LAUSD administrators and UTLA from embarking on campaigns to pretend extra money is there. Proposals to significantly increase funding to schools with “children in need” have been met by proposals to increase staffing levels to those of 2007-08.

      Given that, at best, the budget for 2013-14 won’t be higher than the one for 2012-13, neither of these proposals can be funded as there is no extra money. But since LAUSD has not yet published its LCFF-impacted budget (even though it was supposed to have done so by August 11), the public doesn’t know, and the media hasn’t asked.

      Instead, we are distracted by this proposal to increase the number of days by an extra month. A bigger distraction has been the “iPads for all” debacle which is not to be paid out of the general fund but from the sale of bonds meant for renovation of old facilities with the excuse that the tablets are “furnishings.”

      Questioning that is more important than adding 20 days to the calendar, in my opinion.

      • el replied

        on October 4, 2013 at 10:01 am

        Do all the districts have final LCFF funding numbers yet? I don’t believe my district does. The budget for our district is still basically a carry-forward from 2012-13.

        As a small district, some of the details down in the weeds that no one else cares about matter quite a lot and I don’t think they’re all ironed out, like CTE payments and Necessary Small Schools.

        • Manuel replied

          on October 4, 2013 at 2:20 pm

          As far as I know, all the money that is to be distributed has been distributed already (see http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/pa/iassf13adv.asp for principal apportionment and http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/pa/epa1314.asp for Prop 30 money). Caveat: while everyone has been told, as you know, that the funds for 2013-14 won’t be less than 2012-13, I don’t think that the formula used by CDE and CDF included all the funds that used to go to schools. I say this because I heard district reps at the Downey meeting state that they were short by millions of dollars, which, of course, is extremely important for small districts.

          So now one has to ask if what is being apportioned is the base grant or the base plus supplemental plus concentration. I don’t think this has been defined at any level because LAUSD has yet to publish its LCFF-impacted budget. Has your district done that? They were supposed to have it available for the public by August 11. Personally, I don’t see how the CDE can claim that any money in 2013-14 is other than the base grant. Doesn’t “supplemental” mean “extra?” If there is no extra, then it isn’t supplemental, much less “concentration.”

          Aside from that, what is not out there are the regulations that districts have to comply on to justify their spending. SBoE is supposed to come up with them by January 1, 2014, I think.

  5. navigio said

    on October 3, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I have a love-hate relationship with this topic. As mentioned in another thread, the fact that schools are not necessarily the most inviting places to be does not make keeping kids in them for even longer seem like a positive thing. And while I also applaud the thought process, I cant help but realize that the underlying concept here is to have kids be away from their parents for an increased amount of time because, bluntly put, the achievement gap increases when kids are with their parents. In other words, this is more a way to compensate for an existing fault than a way to improve the quality of education.

    We should also measure time by instructional hours and not days in the classroom. There are many countries in which kids go to school for many more days, but for a shorter amount of time each day.

    • el replied

      on October 3, 2013 at 3:06 pm

      It drives me batty when someone’s solution to a child being behind in math is to double down by enrolling him in two math classes. Way to make school icky, dudes — let’s take something that so far isn’t working for this kid and do it twice as much!

      Make that second class a math-centric elective, where perhaps there working out math to build lego structures, or to make glazes for a ceramic class, or using math in a garden or a business-type project. Get them into a small group where they’re taking sciencey field trips. Take ‘em to an airport or a harbor and get a tour of all the math that’s critical to our transportation system. Find some fun mathy computer games.

  6. el said

    on October 2, 2013 at 9:35 am

    It’s a creative idea and I applaud the process. I have to agree that if LAUSD is running science classes with 40+ kids, that should be the first priority – especially because in classes of that size it is nearly impossible to run safe and interesting and appropriate labs effectively. And English classes of 40+ kids preclude the use of significant writing assignments – there’s not enough time in the day for the teacher to read them all. So I’d be right with the union in suggesting that those be first priority.

    Another approach worth considering is to create extra days for the purpose of what I’ll call non-curricular activities, perhaps making them optional. Have a month during summer that is more creative and fun – a robot building contest, music, a drama class, computer projects. You can have kids make stop-motion animation now with computers and a few inexpensive tools, and have them script it and perform it and edit it. Any kind of project – a garden, a T-shirt selling business, whatever. An advantage of this is that it helps to reinforce school as a fun and interesting place to be, it can build relationships between students and staff, and perhaps give kids some new ways to stand out and shine. You also have the option of bringing in outside experts, like professional artists or musicians, to work with the kids on a short term intensive basis.

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