The disparity between school systems in affluent and poor areas has been readily apparent for a long time now, but attempts to fix this problem have not been successful. Finally, the ACLU believes it has found a new angle it can use to address the inequality.
This past week, the group filed a lawsuit against the state of California for not offering equal instructional time in all of its schools.
It’s an overlooked flaw of the public educational system – since most districts send kids to school for the same amount of days and hours, it would seem “equal.” Nonetheless, if you look closer at how much time kids at various schools actually spend in a classroom, you’d see how drastically lopsided learning time can be.
In her junior year at South Central LA’s Fremont High School, Briana Lamb found that her schedule had more free periods than academic classes. Four periods were designated as “home periods” which permitted her to go home, and a fifth was a “service period,” where she was to assist a teacher with secretarial duties. Not only was the majority of her supposed “school” day free of learning, she knew this schedule wouldn’t give her enough credits to pass the eleventh grade.
“Something as basic as learning time – real learning time – is disproportionately distributed to kids as a function of their ZIP Code,” said the ACLU’s leading attorney in Southern California, Mark Rosenbaum. “Those [affected] kids never get a coherent, organized, comprehensive education. The result is you have a dual school system. You have one school system that treats kids like they’re part-timers and another system that gives full-time education.”
The ACLU’s lawsuit names seven schools in particular that they consider guilty of not offering sufficient instructional time to students. Chiefly, the organization blames faculty turnover and vacancies for the gaps in instruction. Vacant administration and counselor positions have led to massive scheduling snafus. One school year, it took Fremont High three months to sort out its scheduling issues; as a result, many students spent these days in an auditorium waiting to receive a schedule.
Teacher turnover hasn’t helped the crisis at these schools either. Lamb recounted having a substitute, who admittedly knew nothing about math, helm her Algebra class long term – so for a full month, that class received no instruction.
Fellow Fremont student Jessy Cruz echoed Lamb’s frustration to the LA Times. Although he lacks the credits necessary to graduate on time, he was given a school schedule that included three free periods this semester. Now Cruz’s best bet is to try to enroll in summer classes so that he can finish his degree and attend community college in the fall.
In an interview with SCPR, Lamb offered three strong suggestions for fixing her school: offering academic classes, eliminating “service” classes where students assist teachers and hiring teachers with an understanding of and compassion for students with inner-city struggles.
When the ACLU has filed lawsuits against schools in the past, school districts tend to work with the organization quickly to negotiate solutions to the problem rather than letting it go to court. The ACLU hopes that this case will avoid going through a prolonged trial, as well, and that California will apply more resources to the failing schools to ensure more instruction time for all students.