The Free Press, Mankato, MN

February 10, 2014

School week should be a local decision

Why it matters:As long as school districts make sure academic achievement is the primary goal, the state shouldn't discourage four-day school weeks.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — If school districts find that four-day weeks work well for their students and families, and students perform as well as they should academically, then school officials should have the right to implement the schedule.

The Minnesota Department of Education is pressuring districts that have four-day weeks to resume five-day weeks in the future and is discouraging other districts from seeking approval of a four-day schedule.

No school superintendent or school board would consider such a drastic change without serious contemplation. Not only that, but districts that proceed in the process of changing to a shorter week have to totally redo teacher contracts and gain approval from each employment group. On top of that, they have to hold not one, not two, but three public hearings before going to a four-day week.

So districts that have made the schedule change have studied the options seriously and discussed it with the families in their enrollment area. That’s what local control is all about. If these districts have gone through the correct channels and gathered the feedback needed to make an informed decision, then they should have the right to set the schedule that works best for their districts.

Yes, for most districts, the decision is tied to saving money. That’s a good thing coming from local government. Buses are expensive to run with diesel costing about $3.90 or so a gallon recently. It’s no surprise that a district that is geographically large will save a good deal of money by not busing students at least one day a week, such as in northern Minnesota’s Lake County. The school district there saves about $250,000 a year by having a four-day school week, Minnesota Public Radio News reports.

But school districts aren’t reaping transportation savings at the expense of student achievement. Test scores did not take a dive in districts that have implemented the shorter school weeks.

Many districts wouldn’t even be interested in considering the switch to four-day school weeks. The five-day week works for them and that’s what counts. And if a four-day week works better for other districts, that counts, too.

The Department of Education should keep monitoring that the districts with shorter weeks see expected academic achievement, but other than that, the department should let the communities adapt what works best for them when it comes to school schedule.