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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.”

TeacherM June 16, 2012 at 04:05 AM
I am so enraged by this comment by S.B. I had to reply. I have never in my life left a comment on a forum until now. I am an elementary school teacher in Southern California. When I first started teaching 6 years ago I started at $47,000 a year, sadly I have not gone up very much since with cuts, etc. I work M-F from 7:30-3:30, those are my contracted hours. I work Monday-Sunday an extra 2-3 hours a day, sometimes more. I take home papers to grade, materials to prep, data to look at, lesson planning, project planning, professional development. Just because the school bell rings at 2:20 does not mean my job is done. I drag my own kids up to my classroom on weekends so I can put up bulletin boards and work in my room. I don't get paid anything extra. I take care of your kids 6 hours a day, everyday. I nuture them, I instill a love for learning in them, I draw out their creativity, I challenge them, I care for them, I emplore them to be unique and model individuals who participate and give back to society. I teach them to READ, do MATH, CRITICAL think, use TECHNOLOGY!! I spend my summers coming up with new and creative way to teach them ALL I am required and beyond the following year. I spend almost $1,000 of my OWN paycheck on my students and materials! I do all of this because I LOVE my job. Should I not be paid decent for molding our future-YOUR CHILDREN? Please do not blame the teachers for a districts mishandling of finances. I forgot to ask what line of work your in?
Capo Parent June 16, 2012 at 04:06 AM
Because furlough days (up to 15, use to be 5) allow the teachers union to keep the pay schedules in place and that means no cut or reduction in pension benefits. And the icing on the cake, furlough days protect the teachers to the fullest under the circumstances, while inflicting the maximum amount of pain on the students & parents in order to get parents to get rid of furlough days ASAP. This is what "it's all about the kids" really means to the teachers union and its allies.
David Worsley June 16, 2012 at 04:07 AM
A question for anyone who knows... does California have any regulations/laws against corporate sponsorship of local schools? Could this be a revenue stream for local schools that we should encourage? Would corporations/businesses see sponsorship as benefiting them in ensuring a (future) skilled workforce? Is this a bad idea because it would essentially allow businesses a captive audience for their advertising? Thoughts?
Frieda Wales June 16, 2012 at 06:33 AM
Lazy PE teacher. You should report him to someone.
bbq June 16, 2012 at 10:07 AM
David, That has been suggested in these comments before, but it is a good idea! We need to think outside the box. The only problem is getting people on board to make creative ideas a reality. I'm sure there are no laws against corporate sponsorship.
Dawn Urbanek June 16, 2012 at 10:16 AM
The middle section of my comment regarding tenure is not showing up- I was giving a personal example of how teacher tenure is bad for children. As layoffs continue, our two way teachers who not only have a Bclad credential and are fluent and literate in Spanish and English are being replaced by tenured teachers who have a B-clad but are not fluent or literate in Spanish. At my school we had a teacher shoes Spanish was so rusty that their 20 students were divided amongst the other classrooms and was given other duties such as helping English language learned.. Parents thought their kids were in 20:1 classrooms when it was actually 24:1.
Dawn Urbanek June 16, 2012 at 10:22 AM
Final- Parents were not informed about this in order to protect the reputation of the teacher. And to prove just how adult centric the union contracts have gotten. I sure have not seen any real discussion and notification to 2-way parents about how devastating these layoffs will be to the two-way program and to the children whose education will be hurt in that process. These kids are behind in English until about the third/fourth  grade. Parents have made a commitment to the program through that level to ensure there kids will be proficient in both languages. Don't you think parents should be informed about how these layoffs and tenure laws will affect the two way program?
bbq June 16, 2012 at 10:23 AM
TeacherM,. Don't be so enraged. I think, in general, people are frustrated because the government/ state/ school district/ union have turned this into a political fight for money. It all boils down to - they all (the above mentioned) want the struggling people of California to sacrifice more and more and more. We all know that it is not the teachers fault, yet it is also not the general public's fault either. The general public has taken the hit from downsizing, having to tap into their retirement funds, lose their homes, etc. It is time for government reform. Sadly, the government employees will have to share in the pain that the private sector has had to endure for the past several years.
Dawn Urbanek June 16, 2012 at 10:31 AM
Will San Juan elementary school have a 2-way program if there is not money to bring back their teachers? What happens to the 1st 2nd and 3rd grade students who are now behind in English and no longer have a 2-way program? Shoulnd't parents be part of the collective bargaining process? After all there is no better advocate for the children than their parent.. Parents may have decided that it is better to keep our 2way teachers than maintain salaries and accept a less qualified teacher just because of tenure rules.
Teacher June 16, 2012 at 10:49 PM
Hi Dawn, First, you'll probably disregard what I have to say because as a pretty experienced teacher, I'm the bad guy here. I'm the teacher with 19 yrs experience who is making more than you think I should make, have a better pension than you think I should have, and work less than you think I should work. (Here we agree. The school year should be much longer and I plan on teaching my students on the furlough days...I'm taking them to the beach or park or something) You also believe that tenure should be done away with. This is where I'd like to comment. Our fear is that without some protection, when times get tough, you'd simply fire the highest paid teachers. Who wouldn't? From a business perspective, it makes sense. Heck, how much difference can a teacher make? The answer, is all the difference. Research indicates that the ONLY important aspect of the educational process is the quality of the classroom teacher. Curriculum, technology, pedagogy... pale in comparison to the importance of the teacher. So who decides who goes? You from the sidelines? Standardized tests alone? The subjective evaluations of administrators? I want all the bad teachers out and my union shouldn't go to war as often as they do for poor teachers. But the real job of the union is to protect great teachers from a public that might only look at salaries. I keep hearing about the young great new teachers. The truth is the best teachers at my school are the most experienced.
Capo Parent June 17, 2012 at 12:01 AM
Mathteacher How are you going to teach your students on furlough days? Isn't the school basically shut down during the furlough days? If that is in fact the case, me thinks you may have some legal issues to resolve before you do that. Teacher pay should not be based on years on the job. Experience alone does not make one good or bad. What one learns through experience, and how one uses their experience. An average teacher at the beginning of his or her career who is still an average teacher 10 yrs. is simply an experienced average teacher. Under this scenario, most would opt for a young, dynamic, innovative teacher. The easiest and fairest way to evaluate a teacher is to evaluate the teacher based on how much his or her class/classes improve from the beginning to the end of the school year.
Panglonymous June 17, 2012 at 12:36 AM
Speaking of indoctrination... http://missionviejo.patch.com/blog_posts/whos-stuck-paying-for-college-debt#comment_3563205 How is it that middle and upper-middle class folks are promoting the curtailment/abolition of workplace rights and protections that they themselves would (or once did) benefit by? Has union=anti-globalcorporate=unamerican rhetoric entrenched so thoroughly, has identification with the source of one's ever-diminishing real pay and benefits become so desperate, has our atomization as ruggedly-individual discrete units become so complete, that we're incapable of imagining a beneficial collective reversal? Puzzling.
Dawn Urbanek June 17, 2012 at 01:37 AM
M Teacher I never disregard what any person has to say, otherwise I would not spend any of my time on forms such as the Patch, writing letters to District Staff, our Legislators and parents who may not be as informed as they should be . I have to be honest and say that as someone who has always workef in the Private Sector who has held many different positions - everyone has a boss to answer to and in most cases there is a million different ways to "fire" any person for any reason.... Except a teacher (just look at LA unified) Why do you think teachers should be immune to this very basic way business is done. Competition brings the competency of everyone to a hire level. You stated that research indicates that the ONLY important aspect of the educational process is the classroom teacher. Well said- so for the 2- way language immersion program I want a teacher that not only has a B- clad credential, but is also "fluent" and "literate" in both English and Spanish. I do not want a tenured teacher who cannot speak Spanish no matter how experienced that teacher may be. To preserve the 2way program I would fire the tenured teacher and pick qualifications (language skills) over years of experience. Tenure needs to be eliminated if we want to place the education of children first. It is about the kids right?
Teacher June 17, 2012 at 05:31 AM
Dawn, I'm getting a bit tired of the "it's all about the kids" rhetoric. Teachers OF COURSE care about themselves and their families first. OF COURSE they love their jobs as well because as anyone who has ever taught, you have to love this job to stay with it and do it well. OF COURSE teachers are trying to make as good a living as they can. OF COURSE it is possible for teachers to also give a darn about their students. I'm a bit tired of the "either / or" rhetoric. To your question. I believe that we can ensure that only great teachers are in the classroom AND preserve tenure. It starts with the 1.5 years a principal has to make a "permanency" decision. I believe if the teacher isn't amazing, don't offer tenure. Hire someone else and wait for someone to be amazing. That one gets tenure. Then, if down the road a teacher stinks, the administrators need to document everything, provide an opportunity for the teacher to get better, then begin termination proceedings. I know about the lemon dance and the costs. Still, districts must remove really bad teachers. Tenure needn't be thrown out however to make this possible.
Yeparoo June 17, 2012 at 06:09 AM
Wow. 1.5 year(s). STOP COMPLAINiNG Dawn. Get use to it. I mean come on, if you have a high schooler at the Dolpin school, you're child is only one out of maybe 120 students that don't have a math teacher for that year. STOP YOUR WHINNING. Dawn, do you know the lemon dance? Do you know what the defInition or "really bad" is? Yes, thank god for tenure. On Union!!!
Dawn Urbanek June 17, 2012 at 11:04 AM
What percentage of teachers in California are NOT offered tenure?
Dawn Urbanek June 17, 2012 at 11:08 AM
RE: Yeparoo's Comment I have heard of the "dance of the lemons" ... But only in work places where someone cannot be fired. Came from the old saying "if life hands you lemons then make lemonade" unfortunately in Cusd we are almost out of water"
Capo mom June 17, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I'm amused by comments like mathteacher's. Like our dearly departed jollygirl, mathteacher assumes that all teachers are great and "love this job" if they "stay with it and do it well." What about the one's who stay with it and don't do well? There are plenty. I'll bet mathteacher even knows a few. mathteacher says "Our fear is that without some protection, when times get tough, you'd simply fire the highest paid teachers. Who wouldn't?" Out in the real world, people are highly paid because they are good at what they do. When times get tough, those are the ones you keep, duh! Never having worked in an environment where one has to be particularly at one's job, maybe this doesn't seem possible to mathteacher. That isn't to say that there are no good teachers, there are. But there is no real impetus within the system to be a good teacher. Teachers just need to be good enough and they are protected. "Good enough" isn't especially good. Teachers get that and cling tightly to their protection. From the view of a parent in CUSD, CUEA has communicated clearly that it is tired of the idea that public education is "all about the kids", even though they exploit the rhetoric better than anyone. CUEA had a chance to work with the community when times got tough. Their solution have been to call a strike, buy the board and demand a kickback. Every year, they sacrifice their jr members, programs and services to maintain salary and benefits. These actions speak for themselves.
Panglonymous June 17, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Sunday morning: When you say, "God Bless America," what percentage of America do you imagine God blessing? One percent? Ten percent? Twenty? All of it? Be honest. Do you embrace the entirety of this great experiment (as one's God might)? Or do you embrace only that fraction with 'demonstrated' merit, that fraction which includes you, your family, friends and associates - in short, that stratum, that class, in which you 'deservedly' reside?
Capo Parent June 17, 2012 at 07:48 PM
What pay cut? They got back millions, they continue to receive step & column increases, they got an existing contract open so that CUSD could pay more medical premium and there was no hit to their pension funds. Based on your warped sense of a pay cut, there many, many parents in CUSD who could only wish that their pay & benefits were cut so "bad."
Capo Parent June 17, 2012 at 08:06 PM
I don't wake up saying "God Bless America" because we're talking about how bad CUSD has been managed over the last year and a half; and the tremendous influence the teachers union has over CUSD; and how the finances of CUSD have drastically and dangerously declined since the teachers union has taken over, on a defacto basis, CUSD. Instead I ask God, "why oh why have you forsaken the students and parents in CUSD?" The answer from God is, "I gave you free will, and the majority of voters in CUSD voted for the current board majority who have run CUSD into the ground. Your bad, not my problem."
Marc Schroeder June 17, 2012 at 08:27 PM
"Your bad, not my problem." Capo Parent. Does you invisible friend ever give you a different answer about anything? Considering all the child molesters and serial killers who get away with it for decades, either he does not exist or is one sick SOB.
cusd mom June 17, 2012 at 09:53 PM
So I guess our district will have more furlough days than LAUSD? http://www.dailynews.com/lifestyle/ci_20874699/union-ratifies-agreement-lausd-teachers-take-up-10
Panglonymous June 18, 2012 at 03:42 AM
Thanks for considering the question, CP.
Capo mom June 18, 2012 at 09:05 PM
Thanks for providing the data, LeAna and demonstrating how teachers can be paid a six figure salaries, even though you have said repeatedly that this is not possible.
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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