By Tom Elias
It’s become a cliché, the shibboleth that California has lousy public schools and most of the kids don’t care.
Now those students are providing strong evidence that this is a very false narrative. The kids care, as do most of their parents. So do the teachers assigned to them.
That’s one takeaway from the record number of schoolchildren who turned out over the just-concluded winter break for extra classes designed to help start making up for learning missed or lost during the online-only era caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
No one doubts that plenty was lost – some say stolen – from the children during those almost two years when most public schools did not operate in person.
Standardized tests have proven this, with drops in student performance at almost all levels in reading and math.
But under the state’s Expanded Learning Opportunities program, school districts can now add three hours to their school days and extend the school year 30 days to help students improve their academics. Since every study shows the poorer a child’s family, the more learning was lost, most districts are prioritizing low-income pupils, English learners or kids in foster care.
On what was the first day of the program in many places – Dec. 19, 2022, the first additional full day of instruction – hundreds of thousands of students turned out for extra classes, most teachers reporting the kids were enthused, even as they were losing free time.
All the numbers are not yet in, but the Los Angeles Unified district alone reportedly drew 72,000 kids at about 300 campuses. That amounted to almost 20 percent of all the district’s students, almost five times the population of the city of El Segundo, which abuts the LA district, second largest in the nation and California’s largest by far.
Los Angeles schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho touted the “lower class sizes, with individualized, personalized attention, looking at what each student is lacking and providing them with what they need.” He also said the extra days and the additional work students got in over the winter break and will do again over the upcoming spring break, should allow many to make up enough lost time and assignments to graduate on time, rather being delayed six months to a year.
Yes, there were places where turnout was low. At some schools, only about one-tenth of those who signed up actually came to class. But officials at several districts said the majority of students who showed up were those who missed the most and therefore need the most help.
That, said Los Angeles officials, demonstrated there’s a real need for the extra school days. San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen told a reporter that “More kids were failing than succeeding in public school even before the pandemic; the situation is much worse now. So it’s about time we did something.”
Most funding for teachers and other staff on these extra school days and others created by extending the school year to June 15 in most places will come from the state budget’s $37 billion in added education spending for this academic year. But local districts running special programs during school breaks will also pay. The Los Angeles program alone will cost the district $122 million.
This all puts the lie to the myth that no one in power and no one directly involved with the schools cares much about them or their students.
With teachers putting in extra time, administrators and staff opening schools on what normally would be vacation days and thus extending the school year, any student who wants to succeed now has more opportunity.
So far, it appears that a healthy number will take advantage of this unique chance (no one expects this year’s program and extra budget to be repeated soon).
The bottom line: Any program that can improve the academic standing – and most likely the futures – of the large percentage of California public school students detrimentally affected by the pandemic must be considered a myth-busting plus.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net