Monday, November 17, 2008

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
In the November 17th edition of USA Today, the paper addressed education funding and the shortened weeks that several districts across the country are exploring. According to the paper, “one hundred systems in seven states—mostly rural systems facing stiff fuel costs for buses—have gone so far as to shift to four day school weeks.” USA Today’s editorial board took the position that four days a week is not enough time in the classroom for school children.

According to the National School Boards Association, the four-day week is most popular in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona in mostly small, rural districts with less than 1,000 students. That profile fits a number of Oklahoma school districts and as they deal with budget cuts and higher costs, this option should be on the table.

Consider the McCray Public School system in Minnesota. They are a large district that buses a significant number of their students to class. They researched the four-day schedule concept and decided to move to it in September. According to Greg Schmidt, the Superintendent of Schools for McCray, they have saved money and increased instructional minutes for students. “McCray students have gained more than seventeen hours of instructional time by adding sixty five minutes to each instructional day,” Schmidt says. “We also expect to save between $85,000 and $100,000 this school year because of the modified schedule,” Schmidt says proudly. The Miami, Florida school district is considering going to a four day a week schedule.

Most often, schools that switch to a four-day week take either Friday or Monday off. Those choosing to close on Friday say that it is best because such a large portion of the student population misses school due to athletic events and other activities on this day. Those choosing to close school on Monday do so because gymnasiums often have to be lit and heated for Friday athletic events and activities, whereas few such activities occur on Mondays. Regardless of which day schools close, the decision to switch to a four-day week should be based on clearly defined purposes and recognition of both costs and benefits.

The system saves on utility bills, teacher sub pay, buses, and building wear and tear. The bad weather days are easier to make up during the year instead of tacking them onto the end of the year and there are fewer distractions because of sporting or other events.

Studies like Litke, 1994 and Grau & Shaughessv, 1987 state the student drop out rate and disciplinary referrals decrease under a four-day schedule. Daly and Richburg in a 1984 study of twenty schools using a four-day schedule said that student achievement was not affected one way or the other under the plan. All of the studies on school scheduling said that morale was better, there was less attendance issue with staff and students under the four-day plan. They also found the system was more efficient because there was less “transition” time (class changes) than with a five day schedule.

According to the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, moving to a shorter week presents challenges. The most obvious concern of a four-day school week is childcare. While some parents like the four-day week because they prefer having to find good childcare one day a week, others dislike for the very same reason. To help, some schools with the four day schedule have worked to “match up” high school students with parents of those that childcare.

Another concern is when the teaching day is lengthened; keeping the younger students engaged is a challenge. McCray has addressed this issue by moving their more academic work to the morning and placing lesser academic work in the afternoon. A related issue is the at-risk student. Some teachers of at-risk students believe the longer school day is too taxing on students who have difficulty with retention.

One of the major arguments against the four day school week is some educators are concerned that a four day week is inconsistent with the new emphasis in education. USA Today, says, “The United States ranks near the bottom on average weekly instruction time in the classroom when compared with thirty nine other developed countries.” By reducing the number of days, some educators don’t believe the material can be covered in the time allocated.

The four-day week will take more of a local community commitment than other schedule options as it can affect daily community routines as well as the children’s'. With education budgeting and funding issues, this option must be on the table for Oklahoma districts.
Education is not received—it is achieved. As Winston Churchill said, “my education was interrupted only by my schooling.” Public education must start thinking outside the box if they are to prepare our children to compete in the 21st century and that may include moving to a four-day school week.

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