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Topic: Iowa District Puts Twist on Four-Day Week
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Iowa District Puts Twist on Four-Day Week
Posted: Sep 20, 2013 4:59 PM
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From Education Week [American Education's Newspaper of Record],
Tuesday, September 17, 2013, Volume 33, Issue 04, p.10 See
Iowa District Puts Twist on Four-Day Week

By Alyssa Morones

As more districts adopt four-day weeks to cope with budget crunches,
one rural Iowa district says it is embracing the practice for a
different reason: to squeeze more time out of the school calendar for
student enrichment and teachers' professional development.

Starting this school year, students in the 550-student WACO community
school district will attend school Monday through Thursday, spending
an hour longer in class each day so that no classes will need to be
held on Fridays. Students in the district-which serves the
communities of Wayland, Crawfordsville, and Olds-have the option of
attending remedial or enrichment classes every other Friday or to
enroll in college-level classes.

This new plan for the school year follows the June 2013 passage of
Iowa's House File 215, which officially defines the state's school
year length requirements in both days and hours. Under the new law, a
full school year is defined as having at least 1,080 hours, or an
equivalent 180 days, of instruction, but it's up to districts to
inform the state of which metric they will use to measure their
school year-in hours or days.

Iowa isn't alone in this shift. More states nationwide are altering
their definitions of the school year from days to hours to allow more
scheduling flexibility, according to Kathy Christie, the chief of
staff at the Education Commission of the States, based in Denver.
More than 20 states have districts operating on four-day weeks,
according to the Center for Evaluation and Education Policy at
Indiana University Bloomington.

Cost-Cutting Measure?

According to Ms. Christie, districts-especially those in rural
areas-are typically lured to the four-day week as a possible form of
relief from budget woes. They see the condensed schedule as a way to
reduce costs associated with busing and utilities.

In rural southern Idaho, for example, officials of the Wendell school
district say budget concerns are driving their district's move to a
four-day week this academic year. The 1,200-student district hopes
that the new schedule will cut down on transportation and utility
costs and on student absences, since schools receive much of their
funding based on how many students attend.

Superintendent Gregory Lowe said: "With the cuts we had here in
Idaho, we thought this would lead to savings for our struggling
budget, but we also felt like it was a good thing for students."
However, like Iowa's WACO district, Wendell isn't planning on letting
its Fridays go to waste. It will use those days for teacher
professional development, to provide extra help for students through
a program called the Success Alliance, or for enrichment activities,
depending on the week.

The Fridays set aside for professional development will be focused on
instructional strategies for the Common Core State Standards.

Results in Practice

Meanwhile, another rural district, the MACCRAY school system, which
serves Maynard, Clara City, and Raymond in Minnesota, is entering its
fifth school year with a four-day week. For the most part, community
feedback on the switch has been positive, according to the
650-student district.

"Parents really like it," said Gary Simms, the principal of MACCRAY
Senior High School, "and because we have one less day, we save on
busing, on utilities, on maintenance time. We save a bit on food

The district decided to cut Monday out of its school week to reduce
absenteeism as well, since parents can now schedule doctor or other
appointments for their children on that day, and now absenteeism
rates are "maybe a little better than before," according to Mr. Simms.

While child care is one concern often brought up with four-day-week
districts, Mr. Simms said the MACCRAY district hasn't heard many

"If parents know when they will need a babysitter, 99 percent are
responsible enough to get one," he said.

Even though belt-tightening is driving many of the switches to
four-day schedules, Ms. Christie of the ECS said that "cost-saving is
not a reason to make the switch."

That's because calculations of the savings produced by the schedule
change have shown them to be minimal, she said.

Shortening the Schedule: Pros and Cons

Reducing the school week from five days to four doesn't automatically
translate to big savings, according to analysts.

Potential Benefits
* Increased attendance rates for teachers and students
* Boosts morale among teachers and students
* Additional time available for professional development and teacher planning
* Savings on transportation and heating and cooling costs
* Decreased need for substitute teachers; savings in substitute- teacher wages
* More efficient use of classroom time
* Fewer discipline problems

Potential Drawbacks
* Difficulty finding child care on fifth day
* Actual savings often less than anticipated savings
* May have negative effects on at-risk students and those with special needs
* May be difficult for younger students
* Decreased wages for cafeteria workers and bus drivers, who lose
one day of work per week

* Effectiveness and appropriateness in large/urban school districts
* Impact on student achievement

Source: Center for Evaluation and Education Policy, Indiana
University Bloomington
Moreover, the educational value of the time added on to each day, to
account for the lost day of instruction, hasn't been examined in
depth. "Most of the research is anecdotal," Ms. Christie said.

A report from Indiana University's CEEP says that there is no strong
evidence that a four-day week has either a positive or negative
effect on achievement.

In Iowa, the state education department appears to concur with Ms.
Christie's assessment of the fiscal benefits of such a change.

"The state has taken the stand that if a district is doing this just
to save money, that's not something they're OK with. Historically,
they haven't approved those calendars," said WACO Superintendent
Darrell Smith. "And I'm OK with that. Education shouldn't be about

Looking to Improve

Though WACO wasn't the first district in Iowa to make the request to
the state for such a schedule change, it was the first to gain
approval, largely because the district's motivation has not been

"In fact, it could end up costing us money," said Mr. Smith.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires that districts make
"adequate yearly progress" on state academic tests. But, Mr. Smith
said, "when we looked at our data, it was flat."

So the district decided a four-day week might offer an opportunity to
improve learning through additional assistance and educational
enrichment opportunities for students and professional development
for teachers.

For 13 Fridays throughout the school year, beginning this week,
students in all grades will have the opportunity to attend a
half-day, when all teachers will be on hand for office hours, during
which students can get remedial tutoring or opportunities for credit

For students seeking an additional challenge, the district's schools
will also offer enrichment classes, such as music, engineering, or
exploration science classes, on those Fridays or will allow for
concurrent enrollment through the local community college, giving
students the opportunity to acquire college credits.

All other Fridays will be used for professional development, allowing
teachers time to meet with fellow department members and
collaboratively plan their lessons, or learn how to bring technology
into their classrooms.

"What we're looking at is the opportunity to change the way our
teachers teach," said Mr. Smith. "We're really interested in using
technology as an instructional tool, and in putting it in the hands
of kids. But we have to get our teachers ready first."

As of last week, 95 percent of WACO's students had expressed interest
in coming into school for the Friday programs.

Mr. Smith said the district may use the time to bone up on
computerized textbooks to develop more flexible curricula and digital
assessments that will give teachers better feedback on what their
students are learning and what knowledge they're still lacking.

"We don't want to waste time teaching students what they already
know. We want to teach what they don't know," he said.

The WACO district plans to follow the schedule for at least three
years to fully weigh its effectiveness based on student results from
state and district assessments and teacher feedback

"[This plan] puts everybody on the same wavelength," Mr. Smith said.
"It takes everybody working toward the same thing to make something
Coverage of more and better learning time is supported by a grant
from the Ford Foundation at Education Week
retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244

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