Of the 115 school districts currently in Idaho, 43 have implemented a Monday-Thursday extended day for children attending school. While most are public schools, a few charters have also adopted this new schedule, extending each day by 45 minutes to one hour. Initially, the movement was a response to the loss of education funding during the recession. To compare, in 2006-07 only ten rural districts operated on a four-day week.
For these 43 districts (29 of 44 counties) there has been no significant savings since teacher salaries and benefits are fixed and many districts keep their utilities on for teachers who may be required to attend Fridays. Minimal costs are saved on hourly employees. But added costs can include those for extended-day after-school snacks or Friday enrichment activities.
There are some advantages claimed by these districts for their students and families. Absenteeism is markedly reduced, exceeding the state average attendance by 1.6 percent. College visits, extracurricular activities, sports travel (in Idaho a team can ride a bus for a whole day), online learning, and catching up on classwork can be done on Fridays. Students can often come in on Fridays for enrichment or one-on-one help from their teachers. Some parents are pleased to have a dedicated day for medical appointments and other family commitments. Many also like that the longer school days align with their work schedules.
But what about student learning? Governor Butch Otter stated in November, “[W]e need to have somebody take a look at four-day performance versus five-day performance.” While teachers have an extra day for preparation, grading, and collaboration, there is no evidence at this time how their efforts and the four-day week impact student growth. However, a former Idaho superintendent of a four-day week district, Colby Gull, has been performing a study through Idaho State University on just this topic but will not have his research results until later this spring.
Some students could be at risk with the four-day week, such as disadvantaged students whose economic status and/or family circumstances may prevent their access to Friday enrichment activities. Some special needs students have disabilities that affect their retention and they could lose valuable skills or information over a three-day period. Their benefits to the four-day week cannot compare with regular education students.
It is yet to be seen if the landmark increased education funding proposed by Governor Otter for this year would have any impact on districts returning to a five-day week. The fifth day without school has become very popular with teachers and students alike.
Idaho Education News. www.idahoednews.org.
Idaho: Education Week. www.edweek.org.
Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho. www.rociidaho.org.
Times-News, Twin Falls, Idaho. 14 Feb 2016. A-4. www.magicvalley.com.