Poor Schools Receive Less Instructional Time, Claims ACLU Lawsuit

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.


Alina Kanaski
Alina Kanaski3 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Winn Adams
Winn A3 years ago

Not surprised at all . . . .

Candy Carr
Candy C3 years ago

What a shame:( every child should have equal rights in receiving an education ) thanks for sharing

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

Read that where education of waver-choice and public students gather under separate but equal space, to share rental costs, by far the waver-choice students do much better. What say you ...

Charlene Rush
Charlene R3 years ago

Money goes where money is.

The title of this article says it all.

john casablanca
john c3 years ago

Wendy J. - your point is well noted. But it does work, growing up as I have mentioned previously I had gone to Catholic grammar and high schools, what I commented about with uniformity does work, I went through it during my years of education. As my comment stated, it is a good idea and it works, just not necessarily for public schools. In my opinion, with public schools and especially ISD's, there is too much ideology, political and religious influence in the curriculum which does not benefit the students. It is the responsibility of the school, teachers, parents, students
and the Board Of Education in every city and state to ensure that every student receives an equal education, which apparently isn't happening. So what is the answer ??? How much further can our students fall behind other civilized nations, before we have to import workers to handle the new technology of the 21 century ???
John C./Houston, Tx.

Martha Ferris
Martha F3 years ago

A step in the right direction but we have to address the education issue. The system needs an overhaul not just more standards to comply with. Yet, again, the government was trying to use a band aid to stop a hemorrhage and screwed it up. When will this country learn that real progress means equal education for all, good nutrition and healthcare and adequate housing. It means a liveable wage. People personally need to be invested in their future as well. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink. We need to change our attitudes and know that with each person invested in making their lives better and with a government that supports these attitudes, we as a nation can grow and flourish. The big picture needs to be looked at and acted upon. Long term gain should be the focus and steps laid down to reach that goal. Too bad so many are shortsighted and can't see what could be.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K3 years ago

Well said, Wendy.

Pamela Tracy
Pamela T3 years ago

Sounds interesting. If funding is the problem, close the schools and make the students go to a school that is well funded. That way we would end a lot of inequality. Last I heard parents were able to chose the school their kids go to. Last I also heard was that many blacks want their kids to go to only black schools, and so do other minority groups...if that is the case they have to make their schools better. In poor schools there might be the problem of students misbehaving that take away from teaching time. I do not know how teachers are in these schools, but maybe you also need better teachers.

Jean Dahlquist
Jean D3 years ago

If only there was a lawsuit that could fix the inequality gap in funding...