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Illinois students could see four-day school week

March 23, 2010

One of the issues being bounced around Frankfort as lawmakers work on a two-year budget for the state is how long the school year should be for Kentucky students.

The legislature bumped up the length of the school year four years ago to 177 days, which still lags behind most states that clock in with a 180-day school year. In the House budget, the two school days added in 2008 were taken away, but the Senate, in its version of the budget which passed Monday, put them back in.

Our editorial board tackled the issue in February when the House was considering trimming the two instructional days from the calendar. The point we wanted to make was that whether the school year is 175 or 177 days, that decision should be based on what is needed instructionally, not on how many days the state can afford in any given year.

From the editorial –

The length of the school year should be based upon educational concerns, and how much time qualified teachers need to teach core content and meet realistic but challenging standards. School days shouldn’t be added in the name of progress without expecting better results and higher-quality instruction. If a student is stuck in a classroom with a subpar, unmotivated teacher who has little curriculum guidance, a year-round school calendar will not be long enough.

Four years ago, the legislature added two days without explaining what impact they expected from the addition. Now lawmakers are considering taking them away, saying the impact will be minimal.

Simply cutting school days and dollars in the lean years and adding them back during the boom times is no way to craft and educational system. Until Kentucky makes the difficult choices about how it compensates teachers and promotes quality instruction, this state will be left with an educational system that will continue to lag behind. Kentucky’s students will excel when it has a better grasp on the content that should be taught, and higher expectations from those that teach it.

In Illinois, lawmakers are considering another cost-saving measure that could be even more radical than just trimming or extending the school calendar.

According to an article in today’s Chicago Tribune, the state House has passed legislation that would allow school districts to adopt a four-day school week to help save expenses.

From the article –

Students would still be required to go to school the same number of hours every year. That could mean longer school days or shorter summer vacations. …

Rep. Bill Black, a Danville Republican who sponsored the bill, said it started when a Vermilion County school superintendent approached him about ever-increasing fuel costs. Many smaller, rural districts have long bus routes with students who live on farms miles away from their schools.

“All he wanted to do is try and keep their school district operating,” Black said.

Schools statewide are struggling due to delayed payments from the state for items like transportation and special education.

But the legislation is opposed by some major education groups, including the Chicago Teachers Union. Lawmakers opposed to the bill said denying kids a day of school is the wrong way to address the state’s enormous budget problem.

Presumably that would be one way to trim expenses. With buses running only four days a week instead of five, gas and equipment costs would go down. Utility costs as well might be lower, and other sort of operational costs that are dependent upon the number of days a school is operating.

But moving to a four-day week from a five-day week is a major shift in how education is delivered in a school, and not one that should be undertaken without considering the consequences. Students would be facing a longer school day, which could impact the quality of instruction. Having a student home one day during the work week could create significant issues for families in which both parents work.

But at the same time, it’s not that outrageous an idea that’s beyond consideration. Continuing with a five-day school week just because that’s the way it’s always been done isn’t much of an argument.

But the debate in Illinois, just as with the debate over the length of the school year in Kentucky, should be based on the educational impact and not just the financial one.

Any thoughts?

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One Comment
  1. Clint permalink
    March 23, 2010 10:06 am

    During visits back to Owensboro a few years ago, I noticed an urge on the part of some folk mentioned in the Messenger-Inquirer to immitate certain political and financial manuevering long practiced in Chicago, where I live now. Specifically, this manifested itself at that time in the TIF some people wanted to initiate to fund a convention center out on 54. Chicago and the rest of Illinois has long used TIFs. The city’s covered with them … and that kind of thinking is a big reason why Illinois has a $13 billion deficit and is now looking to move to a 4-day school week. I hope Owensboro doesn’t try following that trend as well.

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