Keep Kids in School

The average U.S. student watches 1,500 hours of TV annually while spending only 1,100 hours in school. If we continue to increase TV viewing while decreasing time in school, we end up with an equation that threatens the underpinnings of our democracy.

School budgets are being slashed by $6.1 billion so as to help balance a state budget sorely lacking in revenue. Now the editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News (Sunday, June 7) endorses the Governor’s concept of shortening the school year to save teaching jobs.

California cannot afford a shortened school year, especially for those children who are left home alone when not in school and then watch even more television. The results of a shortened school year, reduced summer school options and fewer jobs for adolescents, will produce a rising tide of juvenile crime and mischief. Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds will lose the most.

When I write, sometimes I scream about the issues for which I feel passionately, and the quality of California’s public schools is high on my list. Not much is being said about the imminent failure of public education due to the reduced funding guarantee under Proposition 98.

We still operate a school year with a summer vacation that is based on our agrarian past. The achievement gap closes when children are in school year round.

In California we have a 180 day school year while Japan has 223 days, South Korea has 225 days, Taiwan has 221 days, and the Russian Federation has 195 days. Most of the industrialized countries I just referred to have longer school days than California. There is growing research and local empirical data that suggests the success of many of San Jose’s Charter Schools (Rocketship, KIPP, ACE) is due to the 11-hour school day.

Reducing days in our school year as the Governor is suggesting and the Mercury is endorsing as a lesser of two evils, is destructive to our democracy. A democracy is made weaker by a public school system that must hold a bake sale to pay its teachers.

It is in the government’s interest to reduce television viewing by increasing the school year and day.



Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. But, Joe, schools issue grades, and they encourage competition.  We need to establish the DiSalvo Free Love and No Grades Academy where the day begins when we feel like it, and children are not asked to read or perform.  We need a DiSalvo future where everyone gets a check and creativity does not mean to challenge everyone.  No Grades, plenty of sex education, and the DiSalvo magic herbal drinks for everyone.

  2. A great way to compete in the global marketplace—shorten total school hours.

    Two big problems need solving.  One, teacher pay needs to be merit based.

    Two, teacher time and energy needs to be concentrated on those who work to achieve.  The stoners, slackers, and drop-outs take too much time away from those wo want to be there and those who try.  Some kids need to be left behind, because they sap precious shrinking resources from those who want to learn.

    On another note, no welfare for HS dropouts—ever.  But they can’t graduate if they are not functionally literate.

    Reinstate trade schools.  We need more electricians, plumbers, and mechanics that we need more lawyers & CPAs.  Some parents need to face the fact that their little angel would be far more productive as a mechanic than going to college, failing, and becoming a burger slinger.  Meanwhile, they have wasted precious resources in the colleges that could have gone to those academically suited for college.

    The goal of trying to teach everyone (in their native language, no less) cannot be met in such a diverse, and diversity-for-its-own-sake country.

  3. Joseph,

    You noted, “We still operate a school year with a summer vacation that is based on our agrarian past.”

    Tit for tat… we still maintain school districts (~50 in our valley?) as though they were based on our agrarian past.  That was fine when there few roads, creeks without bridges and no automobiles.  But there’s simply no reason for it nowadays.

    C’mon, don’t you find it a bit ridiculous to have a one-school district with the attendant infrastructure – superintendant, assistant superintendant, etc.?

    For the 100th time, I’ll get serious about the adequacy of school funding when you and your associates get serious about efficiencies within the system.

  4. Why not shorten the year, but increase the hours in a school day? 

    Aren’t teachers treated as if they were high-tech employees.  That is, they are classified as exempt employees so they can work 60 hours a week without overtime.

  5. RIGHT ON!!!#4

    Imagine how much $$ would be available if we had only half the number of district/supts. office employees.  What do they actually DO?  How do they add value to the education of our kids?

    Oh, isn’t Joe D. one such employee?

    And double Oh, where would we get our politicians in training without a gazillion school boards?

  6. The core issue is not the number of school days or hours per day California public school students spend in school, especially if you’re considering +/- 5 days out of 180.  If we want to improve the public schools then the focus should be on the quality of the education and the learning environment – not on a quantitative metric based on days and hours. Does the school environment motivate love of learning, curiosity, and instill a purpose in students? Does the school have the highest quality qualified and creative staff? Does the school involve parents?

    If you want to propose a quantitative metric, then perhaps there should be some kind of productivity assessment for the time the student is already in the classroom. If you have kids, ask them how much time is “wasted” in school today and then imagine if the wasted time was converted into productive learning time.

    As a parent, I see way too much time devoted to test preparation. I also see homework assignments night after night where my kids are asked to parrot back inane details derived from their text books that, in some subjects, I would characterize as nearly incomprehensible to anyone. Is this learning? Is this school environment the best we can do to motivate kids and keep them in school?

    In summary, I think the same school day and school year we’ve had for generations is fine. If we’re debating school reform given where we are today, I say put the emphasis on improving the curriculum and teaching methods, give teachers more latitude, put the best teachers possible in our classrooms, and use the time students already spend in the classroom more productively.

    Dear kindly Trustee DiSalvo
    You gotta understand,
    It’s just our bringin’ up-ke
    That gets us out of hand.
    Our mothers all are junkies,
    Our fathers all are drunks.
    Golly, Blogger Raj, it is the grading in school
    That gives us that ANXIETY

    Gee, Trustee Disalvo we’re very upset;
    We never had all that sex education you demand for us
    We ain’t no delinquents,
    We’re misunderstood.
    Deep down inside us there is good!

    There is good!

    There is good, there is good,
    There is untapped good!
    Blogger Raj knows the POA is lysing
    Like inside, the worst of us is good!

    SNOWBOY: (Spoken) That’s a touchin’ good story.

    ACTION: (Spoken) Lemme tell it to the world!

    SNOWBOY: Just tell it to the judge.

    Dear kindly Mayor Reedie
    I belong to the MxLeod peace caucus
    With all their marijuana,labs
    They won’t give me a plastic bag ‘cause Jamie says no
    They didn’t wanna have me,
    But somehow I was had.
    Leapin’ lizards! That’s why I’m so bad!

    DIESEL: (As Judge) Right!

    Jamie McLeod you’re really a square;
    This boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care!
    Besides Santa Clara won’t let him camp there
    It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed.
    He’s psychologic’ly disturbed!

    I’m disturbed!

    We’re disturbed, we’re disturbed, the POA
    Is out to get us
    We’re the most disturbed,
    Like we’re psychologic’ly disturbed.

    DIESEL: (Spoken, as Judge) In the opinion on this court, this child is depraved on account he ain’t had a normal home.

    ACTION: (Spoken) Hey, I’m depraved on account I’m deprived.
    But I get undeestanding

    DIESEL: So take him to a headshrinker.

    ACTION (Sings)
    My lawyer is Byron Fleck
    My friend Au Nguyen is a commie
    Brian Darby is always wrong
    My grandma pushes tea.
    My boss Mary Emerson is writing hate letters about the Army
    Victor Ajlouny causes me stress
    Goodness gracious, that’s why I’m a mess!

    A-RAB: (As Psychiatrist) Yes!
    Blogger Raj you’re really a slob.
    This boy don’t need a doctor, just a good honest job.
    Trustee DiSalvo played him a terrible trick,
    And sociologic’ly he’s sick!

    I am sick!

    We are sick, we are sick,  But the
    San Jose cops do not get it,
    We are sick, sick, sick,
    Like we’re sociologically sick!


    In my opinion, this child don’t need to have his head shrunk at all.
    Juvenile delinquency is purely a social disease!

    A-RAB: So take him to a social worker

    Dear kindly social worker,
    They say go earn a buck.
    But DiSalvo took my grades
    Raj says tells them all to leave me along
    Like be a soda jerker,
    Which means like be a schumck.
    It’s not I’m anti-social,
    I’m only anti-work.
    Anti stadium, anti ballpark, anti schools
    Gloryosky! That’s why I’m a jerk!

    BABY JOHN: (As Female Social Worker)
    DiSalvo, Raj you’ve done it again.
    This boy don’t need a job, he needs a year in the pen.
    It ain’t just a question of misunderstood;
    Deep down inside him, he’s no good!
    Peter Campbell found out he’s Irish

    I’m no good!  And Irish, too
    No neighborhoods for me

    We’re no good, we’re no good!
    Stay out of Downtown
    We’re no earthly good,
    Like the best of us is no damn good!
    We cannot even make a casserole!

    DIESEL (As Judge)
    The trouble is they are crazy

    A-RAB (As Psychiatrist)
    The trouble is they drink

    BABY JOHN (As Female Social Worker)
    The trouble is like Armando they like mayo

    The trouble is he stinks. (meaning Victor)

    The trouble is he’s growing.

    The trouble is he’s grown.

    Raj we got troubles of our own!

    Gee, Blogger Raj
    We’re down on our knees,
    ‘Cause no one wants a fellow with a social disease.
    Gee, Trustee Disalvp
    We do not have any grades
    Gee, Mayor Reed
    Krup you!

  8. Ya know, the more I read the headline, the less I agree with it.  Joe wants to keep kids in school because state funding is based upon average daily attendance.  The fewer slackers who just take up space show up, the less money each district gets.

    Should we encourage kids to stay in school?  YOU BET!  But by the time they’re in Middle School, every teacher knows who the potential dropouts are.  Give them a big push to stay, but if they don’t, cut them loose.  That way, teachers will have enough time to spend on the kids that want to be there to learn.

    BUT, before you cut the slackers loose, let them know that they will be ineligible for any form of public assistance if they don’t graduate from high school.  Fat chance the legislature will pass that bill.  But they should.