[Vision2020] Idaho's four-day school week trend a financial necessity

Tom Hansen thansen at moscow.com
Sun Dec 13 07:47:16 PST 2015

Jus' think . . . a couple more education budget cuts and Guv'ner Butch will be able to hand out more of them corporate tax cuts, huh?

And if'n Butch thinks he needs more scratch to make them fat cats fatter . . . all he need do is increase the state grocery tax.   Somebody's got to pay for those state subsidies, right?

Courtesy of this weekend's (December 12/13, 2015) Moscow-Pullman Daily News.

Idaho's four-day school week trend a financial necessity
As Idaho's rural schools struggle to make ends meet on little state support, many have turned to a shorter school week as a way to save money.
The savings are typically minimal, with most districts trimming about 2-4 percent of their budget with the move from the traditional five-day school weeks to four, according to information from Idaho Education News. But the jury is still out on whether the practice is beneficial or harmful to students.
When the Troy School district struggled through two levy failures earlier this year, four-day school weeks were an option Superintendent Christy Castro looked into, but that wasn't the route the school board preferred to go, she said.
"They felt the savings was up front and it was temporary, and they just weren't convinced it was the right fit for our district," Castro said.
Although the passage of the district's levy in August dropped the issue, that doesn't mean the discussion is over.
"We found we are functioning very well since our levy passed. We haven't opened the discussion again but that doesn't mean it's something we wouldn't consider in the future," she said.
It isn't the only district that has been faced with the decision.
According to test results and the Idaho State Board of Education, there are no hard numbers to determine whether four-day weeks has proven good, bad or indifferent to students' academic achievements.
Sunburst Schools Superintendent Tim Tharp of North Toole County, Mont., made the four-day question the subject of his doctoral dissertation in 2014. According to Tharp, Montana schools that have made the switch claim increased attendance under the four-day week.
"Schools that have made the switch to a four-day week have reported improved student and teacher attendance and reduced absenteeism ... but no research exists that analyzes this potential link to achievement," Tharp wrote.
In addition, Tharp wrote the reduced absenteeism found could be explained by the fact students - and teachers - who would ordinarily miss classes on Fridays due to sporting events and other extracurricular activities have no classes that day to miss.
Improved attendance, however, is not where the majority of questions lie. Rather, academic improvement is the primary issue - and one that is more difficult to answer, as different studies draw different conclusions and the recent changes in standardized testing have shown a downward trend in the vast majority of test results, regardless of the length of the school week.
Tharp's study showed an initial rally after switching to shorter weeks, but an eventual decline in later years in student achievement in Montana, but other studies show the opposite.
Regardless of the questions that seem to have no answers, the trend of four-day school weeks continues to expand in Idaho - from 10 districts in the 2006-07 academic year to 43 in the 2015-16 academic year. The state now has more than 25,000 students, or 9 percent of the student population, attending schools that use four-day weeks.
For the most part, it's not out of preference.
Robert Vian, Superintendent of Orofino Joint School District 171, said the district has been on a four-day week for about the past seven years. Although he wasn't at the district when it switched from five days to four, he said it's unlikely the change was out of anything other than necessity.
"Nobody switches except because of finances," Vian said. "I don't think anybody thought it would be a better situation. It's an attempt to keep the school doors open."
About 85 percent of Orofino's budget - like many other rural schools - is spent on staff, and the only way to cut costs is to cut hours, he said.
While hours are cut for classified staff - like cooks, secretaries and bus drivers - students' regular school days are extended by about 45 minutes daily, with longer instructional blocks to make up for shorter weeks.
Shoshone County schools Superintendent Rob Waite said his district made the switch several years ago and, like Orofino, is unlikely to go back to the typical five-day week.
"This is the only way to do it all," he said. "Research is strong in that area that these things work."
Neither Waite nor Vian have had a single complaint about the way the districts' calendar is set up, they said.
"I think it would be a hard sell to go back to a five-day week in this community. I don't think the parents would be for it," Vian said.
Vian said he feels there is a widespread misunderstanding about four-day school weeks and time children spend on their lessons.
"Our kids go to school the same number of hours, it's just split into four days instead of five. Our kindergarten kids are getting 960 hours of education where the state requires 450," he said. "I think that gets us off to a really good start


Seeya 'round town, Moscow, because . . .

"Moscow Cares" (the most fun you can have with your pants on)
Tom Hansen
Moscow, Idaho

"There's room at the top they are telling you still.
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill,
If you want to be like the folks on the hill."

- John Lennon
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