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Is the Four-Day School Week
Coming Your Way?

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Test scores were on the downswing; unfunded state mandates were on the rise. There was not enough money, not enough time. What is a superintendent to do? Lewis Diggs, Superintendent of Schools in Saratoga, Arkansas, might have found the answer for his system in the four-day school week.

Saratoga, Arkansas, made news last year when the school district announced its plan to experiment with a four-day school week. The tiny (under 300), rural, K-12 system was beset by low test scores, increased (and unfunded) state mandates, and a looming tax increase.

The Arkansas legislature had passed legislation in the spring of 1997 allowing school districts to shorten the school week as long as the total number of hours students attended school remained the same. Saratoga was the first system in Arkansas to take advantage of that law. Students began attending school four days each week instead of five at the beginning of the 1997-98 school year. Students attended school 142 days instead of the state-required 178 days. (The 1998-99 school calendar again calls for 142 days.)

Now that the school year has ended, Education World spoke with Lewis Diggs, Superintendent of Schools in Saratoga.

SOMETHING TO PROVE!

Diggs admits that Saratoga teachers and students received a boost from the publicity surrounding their experiment with the four-day week.

"Several state board members were opposed to the four-day week," Diggs told Education World. "They came out against it in the newspaper and said that they would try to stop it or get it changed the next legislative session. [That attitude] fired up our teachers who wanted to show the legislators that it would work."

"I think it helped the morale of our students," adds Diggs. "They were able to read a lot about Saratoga in the papers and [they knew] they were part of something special, something different. The assistant director from the state department spoke recently at our graduation and he told the students that they were making history. They were part of the first four-day school week in Arkansas."

Superintendent Diggs started the year slowly, making adjustments as needed and adding programs when it was possible. He sees the experiment as offering more, not less to the students of Saratoga.

"We have an extra day to bring kids in, to tutor more kids -- an extra day to do more things with more kids," says Diggs. "And it also gives us a chance save some money. We've added a tutoring program, a reading recovery program, a preschool program for children ages 3 to 5, and we're going to bring in kids needing extra help for 5 weeks this summer."

Diggs told Education World that the teachers' contract, as far as dollars were concerned, was not affected because the teachers are working the same number of hours they had been working before. The change did affect non-certified staff and the district realized savings.

THE SCHOOL DAY -- 90 MINUTES MORE

The school day for all Saratoga students -- including the full-day kindergartens -- was increased by 90 minutes. A longer recess, snacks, and a variety of activities helped younger students through the longer day. "They seem to do real well," says Diggs.

One area of concern had been childcare arrangements, but after the first month, parents found that "...it was less trouble to find someone for all day Monday than for a few hours every day of the week."

MONDAYS OFF -- FOR SOME

The new school week runs from Tuesday through Friday but some students and teachers are there on Mondays as well. Tutorials are run for students who need extra help.

"The first semester, we tried to require the students who [scored] under the 50th percentile to come in and we offered extra help and tutoring for high school courses such as trigonometry, or physics," explained Diggs. "And we let students sign up in advance so we would know what teachers to bring in. In that first semester, we did not have a big turnout."

During that first semester, no transportation was provided for Monday tutorial students -- families had to provide the transportation. However, by the second semester, it was obvious that money was being saved and officials realized that they could provide bus transportation to the tutorials.

"During the second semester we started running the bus and we brought in different groups each Monday," Diggs explained. "We had a good turnout ...when we actually went and picked up the students."

Mondays were not always for the same students. Many groups attended tutorials every other Monday or every third Monday. They had a little break and the teachers did too.

The teachers who provided tutoring sessions on Mondays were paid for their time and many of them had the opportunity to participate. Teachers signed up for the days and subjects they were available to teach and student groups were matched to them.

"Teachers were paid extra, by the hour," said Diggs. "We asked [teachers] to sign up if they were interested, and the majority said they would [be interested]."

IMPROVED ATTENDANCE FOR STUDENTS AND TEACHERS

Although many teachers work fewer days than some other professionals do, teaching is a job where teacher attendance is mandatory when school is in session. When a teacher is absent, whatever the reason, a substitute must be brought in and paid. In many other professions, work can be made up later, or can be covered by others in the workplace. Teachers have the same personal responsibilities as others and they often find it difficult to schedule "real life."

"[Student] attendance was better. Teacher attendance improved," says Diggs. "Teachers had a day they could schedule appointments.... [The better teacher attendance] cut down on discipline problems because students had their regular teachers more of the time. Students had a day they could go to allergy doctors, dermatologists..."

MEASURING STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT

Saratoga test scores have been among the lowest in the state. Diggs hoped to raise student achievement levels with the switch to a four-day week. With longer classes each day, teachers could address more questions during class time and students could often begin homework assignments before leaving school. Mr. Diggs feels positive but points out that the four-day week itself did not make the difference.

"In Arkansas ... the Stanford tests are not given until fall," says Diggs. "We will know about test scores then, for grades 5, 7, and 10. But it is not anything the four-day week did; it is what we did with the four-day week. If you just go to a four-day week, nothing different will happen. But we added extra programs and extra help, and we're hoping it will show up really well in September."

CHANGES FOR THE 98-99 SCHOOL YEAR

The plans for the 1998-99 school year call for continuing the successes of this year. EW asked Diggs whether other changes were in the works:

"Nothing big, but we're still adjusting our program. [We hope to] extend the first-grade reading recovery program into the first three grades, we've added the accelerated reader program, and are considering other programs. The first year has been trial and error, but [this next year] will get off to a much faster start. We'll make changes as the year goes by."

Many other school systems are examining ways to improve student learning and control costs. The advice Lewis Diggs would give reflects the importance of the entire school community in major decisions:

"First of all, start with the faculty. Make sure the majority of them are in favor of the change. Then go to the community. You need to have your faculty and community behind you, especially your faculty ... they are the ones who have to make it work."

"We did surveys, before we ever started this, explaining what we were trying to do," adds Diggs. "Community members were in favor of not having a tax increase. At the end of the year, we had very few negative comments. The people basically say they'll do whatever is best for the school."

"Other communities have to figure out their needs and go first to their teachers," says Diggs. "[A four-day week] will not work everywhere. We are in a rural area about 30 miles from the closest big city. Larger places might have different concerns."

Diggs is pleased with faculty, student, and community response at the end of the school year. Many of the concerns they had going in have been worked out. And leaders of the school system have learned and made changes along the way. This school year, Diggs says, has been a good example to students of being able to adjust to and learn from an experience.

Related Articles from Education World

The School Calendar: It's Time to Make Time for Learning

Could Four-Day Weeks Work for You?

Related Resources and Internet Links

School Gives High Marks to a Four-Day Week
A February Christian Science Monitor story visits Saratoga, Arkansas, half-way through the first year of their four-day school weeks.

The Four Day School Week
This Research Brief from the Principal Partnership answer the questions 1) Can four-day school weeks help districts save money? 2) How do districts overcome the barriers of moving to a four-day week? and 3) What is the effect of a four-day week on students, staff, and the community?

Four-Day School Week Draws Fans
More small districts can choose to change schedules, which some say will save on buses, utilities and lunches.

The Four-Day Week
A "background paper" created by the Hot Spring (South Dakota) District Schools.

Article by Anne Guignon
Education World®
Copyright © 2008 Education World

Originally Published 07/06/1998
Links last updated 08/28/2008



 

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