Guest Commentary: Tide turning in state on four-day week“Eighty to 90 percent of our students, staff and families prefer the four-day school week to the more traditional five days. In two separate surveys, they have told us they like this schedule better.”
By: Joe Nathan Director, Center for School Change, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota , Lake County News Chronicle
“Eighty to 90 percent of our students, staff and families prefer the four-day school week to the more traditional five days. In two separate surveys, they have told us they like this schedule better.”
That’s what Ed Harris, Ogilvie’s superintendent, told me. Conversations with he, Deb Henton of North Branch, whose board just adopted the idea and a third superintendent, along with a brief review of the research, convinced me this is worth considering.
Harris reported that the central Minnesota rural district of Ogilvie began the four-day week – Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4:05 p.m.) last September because “we were driven by years of budgetary hardships, and had few options left.”
While things have not been perfect, Harris reports:
- Teachers spent a greater percentage of time working with students.
- Improving teacher’s skills can be done more effectively.
- The transition has been smooth.
- Virtually everyone likes the three-day weekend.
- Evenings are a “little shorter.”
- Athletes and coaches report that they have to be more efficient with practice time.
- The perceived downsides of day care problems and students or faculty exhausted by the longer day “have not materialized.”
- The district saved about $50,000 in transportation and other costs.
Would Ogilvie return to a five-day week? “It depends. Maybe, if we received a lot more money. Probably not if state revenue went up modestly.”
North Branch Superintendent Deb Henton told me “Our community has asked us to ‘think outside the box’ to deal with declining enrollment, lack of an operating levy and flat revenue.”
Her research found that the four-day week often produced “improved attendance and morale, plus support from some (but not all) families.”
Last month the North Branch board adopted a budget with a four-day week, along with fifth-day services for youngsters wanting extra help or enrichment opportunities. Families will have to provide transportation for the fifth day. Hinton projects about $175,000 savings annually.
Rush City Superintendent Vern Koepp is studying the idea. “We would not be considering it if we were not in very challenging financial times. It is a creative response to dealing with challenges in ways that hurt kids less ... not ideal but better than some of the alternatives.”
Koepp concluded there “is not a lot of hard, scientific evidence, but 35 years of anecdotal evidence.”
I agree after reading a 2008 report for the National Conference of State Legislatures, a 2003 Indiana University report, and other documents. Most found that districts saved transportation, energy costs, and staff costs. Research about academic achievement was mixed (sometimes it went up, sometimes the four-day week did not make much difference in achievement). Mostly small, rural districts have been experimenting with this since the 1970s.
Koepp believes the four-day (student) week would allow more effective staff development. By using one or two Mondays a month for it, staff development “is not tacked on the end of the day, where teachers are tired.”
Rush City anticipates saving $120,000 if the district with a four-day week. It would save transportation, food service, custodial, clerical, paraprofessional and substitute costs. Koepp acknowledges, “This would be painful for some employees.”
Not ideal, but intriguing. That’s how I’d describe a four-day school week.
Joe Nathan, a former public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change, Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota. Email him at jnathan @umn.edu.