Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Minnesota’s four-day school week is based on money, not education

Minnesota school districts that have begun using a four-day school week say that students, teachers and the community generally accept the shorter week and, in some cases, prefer it to the traditional five-day week. That’s good news, because the districts had to go to the four-day weeks whether the students, teachers or community liked it or not.

Acceptance of the short week doesn’t change the fact that it is a bandage to chronic underinvestment from the state. School districts like MACCRAY, Warroad, Ogilvie and Blackduck find themselves in such an untenable financial position that they have to resort to drastic measures just to shave a few dollars off the bottom line.

MACCRAY, which stands for Maynard, Clara City and Raymond, is a west central Minnesota district that began a four-day week last year. The Blackduck and Warroad districts in northern Minnesota, along with the Ogilvie district in central Minnesota, began a four-day week this year.

Make no mistake about it: These decisions were entirely financial in nature. While school leaders intend to put the savings back into the classroom, and they certainly don’t want to see test scores, graduation rates or other measures of academic achievement fall, their main interest was not to better student achievement but to simply keep the doors open.

The result of failed state leadership
This is the result of failed leadership at the state level. In 2003, Minnesota began a state takeover of school finances, an attempt to bring statewide property tax relief. Since that time, the amount the state has paid schools has dropped an inflation-adjusted 13 percent, leaving schools high and dry for money to provide even a basic education.

“We’ve cut $1 million in the past 10 years,” said Blackduck superintendent Robert Doetsch. “We’ve cut and cut and there’s no place more to cut without affecting basic education.”

Blackduck is a district of 642 students with 52 percent in poverty. The district has failed to raise the levy in referendums in the last two years. Doetsch said the district will save an estimated $70,000 by going to a four-day week.

“But it’s just a Band Aid. We’re doing this in light of the legislature gutting us financially. This shows how desperate we are.”

Significant savings
MACCRAY has a similar problem, said superintendent Greg Schmidt. The district with 710 students will save about $143,000 this year because of the four-day week.

“There are very few places for us to cut at the elementary level, so if we hadn’t saved this money, the cuts would have come out of the high school level,” he said, adding that the loss of several teachers would have meant untenable class sizes or the loss of an entire elective program.

Warroad superintendent Craig Oftedahl was more succinct. If his district hadn’t gone to the four-day week, he would have had to cut foreign language or shop entirely for his 1,100 students.

“There just aren’t that many places to cut anymore,” he said. “We’ve cut the last 10, 12 years and there’s no place to go, so now we’d have to cut basic programs.”

Kudos to the districts
Minnesota’s Constitution requires the state to provide an education to its citizens, and kudos to these school districts for finding a way to provide that education when the state has reneged on its financial responsibility.

It didn’t need to be like this. Simple financial planning on the part of the governor and lawmakers would have meant that districts wouldn’t have to resort to shell games and smoke just to be able to afford basic programs or keep class sizes below that of a mob.

This is a sad time for Minnesota education when innovation and experimentation is the result of state financial mismanagement, not the desire to improve the education available to our children.

John Fitzgerald is an education policy fellow at Minnesota 2020, a progressive, non-partisan think tank based in St. Paul. This article originally appeared on the organization’s website.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 01/28/2010 - 07:46 am.

    I get it that school district financing is a mess at the state level. But to oversimplify matters by just attributing it to “failed leadership at the state level” is disingenuous.

    Looking at the Blackduck district enrollment in 1988-89 from data available on the Minnesota Dept. of Education website, there were 800 students in that district in the 1988-89 school year (that is as far back as it goes). Using the MDE data for 2007-08, Blackduck reported an enrollment of 666–a decline of 17 percent. A decline to 642 reduces enrollment another four percent from 2007-08.

    School enrollments reflect, in part, our changing demographics. Many districts in more rural parts of the state are seeing a decrease in overall population. And a larger share of those who remain are aging, retiring, and living on fixed incomes. Many aren’t going to villify local schools, but the realities are that they can’t afford to pay the additional levies being requested.

    Another change since the late 80’s has been the additions of policies and requirements from both the state and federal government for this, that and the next thing. Oh, by the way, many of those arrive at the Superintendent’s desk with the expectation that the district will simply pay for it.

    By no means is this meant to take the state “off the hook.” But the realities are that changing demographics and economic conditions in many of these smaller, rural districts are not going to stop and reverse themselves overnight.

    The larger concern may very well be whether or not many of these small communities can continue to sustain themselves over the longer term. I travel throughout Minnesota and can show you many “Main Streets” that are littered with empty storefronts and residents that have to travel longer and longer distances for basic such as health care, dental care and just buying groceries and other essentials. The long-term sustainability of some of the smaller towns has to be a concern.

    Long-term solutions are not going to be easy, nor are they going to have an overnight impact. But let’s not just dump it all on MDE and holler “next issue!”

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 01/28/2010 - 09:33 am.

    In his State of the Union last night, Obama crrectly observed “education is the key to jobs in the 21st Century”. To me, that fact is indisputable; and given that, our continued contraction of our education system is nothing short of a travesty. If our kids grow up with a less than competitive edge internationally, the repercussions will be felt for years to come, and are irreversible. to me, Minnesota is on a bad path with our current funding of our childrens’ futures.

  3. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 01:59 pm.

    What then do you suggest that we do? Let us imagine that we are a school board not at all a comfortable place to sit. If there is to be a four day week could we intergrate work and learning better? Minnesota already has a high graduation week can we forcast such a rate into the future? How are some of the rural community colleges doing? I agree some of the policy decisions both on the spending side and the revunue side are breaking the bank but how do you reconcile the two?

  4. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 04:34 pm.

    Has anyone read the PP education editorial today. Apparently not.

  5. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/28/2010 - 04:49 pm.

    Small typo in the headline, John…allow me.

    Minnesota’s public school system is based on money, not education.

    Perfect.

  6. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/28/2010 - 04:56 pm.

    A dialectical materialist would be proud. Marx. Unfortunately the neocons have won, war continues anew, and the peasants suffer.

  7. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/28/2010 - 10:30 pm.

    Its cost about $50,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Which is cheaper, education or putting someone behind bars?

    The annual projected cost for in 2009 is estimated at 12.3 billion dollars that the taxpayers are paying for.

  8. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/29/2010 - 07:32 am.

    Richard haven’t you heard the neocons have won. I really do like your writings but in this case you used a bumper sticker slogan that I think just is not true. Yes prison is very costly and we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the world. WE also have a very high gini coeffecient (a measure of inequality) and an eroding industrial base that used to put young men to work not sloth. My son will probably be a valedictorian next year and I hope he does well in college and beyond but if we don’t acknowledge and employ service workers who are the vast majority of our peoples we are in for a storm. I don’t have any easy answers if at all. Studies have shown that even with intensive pre k in at risk children that altho their brain will be wired better for learning that if they don’t get up and out they white and black are still stuck in poverty or near poverty conditions. I think some variant of industrial school on a german or arne carlson model would be good. A lot of resources are put into trying to improve those at risk too late. I wish my 2 friends who teach 16-20 year olds would write in but they are just not disposed to doing so. Keep writing you are one of the best. Always with the best intentions.

  9. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/29/2010 - 07:35 am.

    See read today’s business agenda in Minnpost.

  10. Submitted by John Olson on 01/29/2010 - 08:34 am.

    Neocon headline we’d like to see:

    A Mind is a Terrible Thing

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 01/29/2010 - 10:03 am.

    Dan, You are correct. Socioeconomic circumstances as well as parental involvement are but a few of the factors that result in a child’s success or failure. Although my two bits was rather shallow. My point was one that involved return on investment.

    You seem to have set your children up for success by taking the time to be involved and giving them an opportunity to model themselves in a positive way. Those qualities are learned behavior. Tip of the hat!

    Your second point pretty much sums up the problem. The basic assumption that jobs will eventually return when the economy recovers is probably wrong. Some jobs will come back, of course. But the reality that no one wants to talk about is a structural change in the economy that’s been going on for years but which the recession has dramatically accelerated. That is why I support the push toward “new” technologies as they relate to energy and other tech industries.

  12. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/29/2010 - 12:59 pm.

    Dan’s suggestion regarding industrial schools is one that I have been making for years.

    In fact, genuine alternative learning of this sort was a main issue of my campaign for SPPS board in 2002. The Saint Paul Federation of Teachers and their cronies said it was tantamount to capitulation, and suggested it was an indication of my secret agenda to destroy public education.

    What they were really upset about, of course, is that since candidates for teaching trades would not necessarily follow the traditional (union controlled) path to a teaching credential, they saw it as a threat to their control of the schools.

  13. Submitted by dan buechler on 01/29/2010 - 05:29 pm.

    Thom, I think you have some good ideas like this but you get carried away amd self sabatoge (sometimes a bit of a Johnny one note) like on the meth/HIV article stick to what you know motorcycles not moralizing.

  14. Submitted by Darrel Anderson on 02/02/2010 - 06:10 am.

    Yes we lost sight of education not for the almighty dollar but for grooming our kids to be the next mega athlete. We spend more money in this country on travel for all of sports then we do to educate 1/2 of our kids. So we cut the school days. That is why our system is falling apart thread by thread. No one really has their eye on the ball.

  15. Submitted by Don Kordosky on 09/09/2011 - 06:55 pm.

    Hello all,

    First off, I was completely against the four-day week to start with. Now I am a complete supporter of the four-day week because it is better for kids, families and staff.

    Not all school districts go to a four-day week because of money. My school district did not do it for money, but because the change was in the best interest of students. Many districts have gone to the four-day week because of some things other than money:

    1. Teacher attendance percentages increase. Teachers are the key to student learning, and having the regular classroom teacher in the room instead of a substitute teacher is better for kids. In Oakridge, OR, the number of available work hours missed by teachers decreased significantly (21.8%) after the move to a four-day school week. This was a significant decrease in time of when the regular teacher was present.

    2. Student attendance typically increases – more at the high school level than at the elementary school level.

    3. Parents have found that the elimination of half days for students (typically because of teacher work days, curriculum days, grading days, inservice days, etc) has made finding child care easier. That is a paradox, but parents have found that it is easier to find child care on Fridays than on the plethora of half days that typically occur with the five-day week. On a five-day week schools often send kids home so that teachers can do necesary but non-teaching tasks. On a four-day week you bring teachers in on Friday, and don’t have to send the kids home. The consistency of a four-day week is a very strong attribute.

    4. Student seat hours can increase, if that is the desire of the district. By eliminating all of the non teaching activities on Fridays (lunch time, passing periods, transportation time, recess) and increasing the hours on the Monday through Thursday you actually increase learning time by students. Also, you need to have four days of school every week, so if there is a holiday on a Monday you go to school Tuesday through Friday.

    5. Student discipline decreases, and student engagement increases.

    6. Teacher vitality and morale increases tremendously.

    We went to the four-day week three years ago, and I was orginally against the idea. We adopted for a two year trial period and everyone, including the parents, love it. It is now a regular part of our functioning, and we have some of the highest performing schools in the state.

    Academic achievement, especially at the high school level skyrocketed! We have had a tremendous growth in math, writing and reading scores. It is a fact that the four-day week has been shown to improve scholastic achievement, or, at worse, academic achievement stayed the same when they moved to a four-day week.

    Remember, I was against this idea in the beginning. I read the research, reviewed the data that was available, had meetings with stakeholders (parents; staff; students; Board members; community leaders; city government) and decided it was a good fit for us.

    And we did it because it is an improvement over the hit and miss of a five-day week.

    I have no horse in this race, except the improvement of public education. I would suggest you google my interview on NBC Nightly News, or check out the KOR-Education.com website.

    Don’t let nostalgia for an antiquated tradition cloud your mind – take a few minutes and read about the four-day week and get the facts.

    http://www.kor-education.com/

    or,

    http://fourdayschoolweek.net/

    I self-published a book (paid for it out of my own pocket) on this topic and rural gifted education (or, lack thereof!). Check them out – you will find them enlightening. I do not make any money off of the books, and am part of a group called Kor-Education that is trying to improve public education. That is my personal long-term goal.

    Thanks, and email me if you have any questions or would like to learn more.

    Don Kordosky, Ed.D., Superintendent, Oakridge Schools

    dosky99@hotmail.com

Leave a Reply