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Ben DeGrow

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March 9, 2012

Commentary: Could four-day weeks be beneficial?

As last year’s election season came upon us, I was pleased with the opportunity to debate state senator Rollie Heath (D-Boulder) on 9News about his statewide education tax increase measure, Proposition 103. Three of the primary reasons he cited as evidence of school district cutbacks allegedly causing adverse effects on students and families were larger class sizes, extra fees and four-day school weeks.

The first two factors can be saved for another conversation.

This week, though, I stumbled across an interesting study, featured on the Governing website under the headline “Four-Day School Week Could Boost Student Performance.” Really, I thought? How would you explain that? A lot of studies cross my desk, and I don’t get time to look at them all. But this one focused specifically on Colorado. So how could I resist?

As the study authors — economists D. Mark Anderson (Montana State) and Mary Beth Walker (Georgia State) — note, more than 60 of Colorado’s 178 school districts have cut either Friday or Monday out of the regular school schedule. These tend to be smaller, rural districts. The authors also cited a 2010 CDE survey in which most administrators listed “financial savings” as the motivation for cutting a day out of the school week. Not exactly new for those who closely follow education in Colorado.

But it’s the bottom line of Anderson and Walker’s research that deserves further scrutiny and discussion:

The results presented in this paper illustrate that academic outcomes are not sacrificed under the four-day week; in fact, we provide some evidence that math and reading achievement scores in elementary schools actually improve following the schedule change….

Specifically, using data from the Colorado Department of Education, we find that scores on math achievement tests increase by roughly 12 percent after the switch to a four-day week schedule. The estimated impact of the four-day week on reading achievement is always positive in sign but is generally smaller in magnitude and estimated with less precision….

February 29, 2012

Commentary: Unfunded kids dumped on districts?

Last October, Education News Colorado released its controversial series on full-time online schools. One of the leading claims in the story was that students transferring from online programs after the October 1 count date create an unfunded burden for many school districts:

In the tiny Florence School District outside Pueblo, [Laura] Johnson was one of 39 students who left Florence High School last year to sign up for online classes with GOAL Academy, one of the largest online schools in Colorado.

By January, she was back at Florence, disillusioned by the online experience and trying to make up for her lost time in class. She was joined by a dozen of her former online classmates.

Those 39 students who left Florence High School for GOAL represented one of every 10 students in the school. When they left, so did nearly a quarter million dollars in state funding – the equivalent of four to five teachers’ salaries. When a dozen of the students returned to Florence High mid-year, the funding to educate them did not come with them. GOAL got to keep it.

Unfortunately, the report lacked some key information that provides a significantly different perspective.

February 13, 2012

Commentary: Where’s the rest of the Dougco school survey?

After suffering the sting of defeat in last year’s school board elections, Douglas County union officials and a disaffected vocal minority of community members have launched an aggressive campaign to defame the sitting board. It’s perfectly their right to call into questions any actions of their elected officials with which they disagree. But they also set themselves out to be held accountable for the information they purvey. There have been at least two major fronts to union officials’ campaign.

First, their allies manipulated the Denver Post to make it look like the board is callously hoarding district funds to harm students and employees intentionally. Really? DCSD’s clearly laid out budget facts strongly belie the accusation. It would be interesting to review previous years’ fund balances from the district to see the context of current budgetary decisions. I have a hard time believing the opposition wouldn’t make hay of the board’s actions had they irresponsibly spent district reserves into oblivion.

Second, as covered in EdNews, AFT officials and other critics seized on a union-sponsored survey that showed low employee morale to hurl invective at the board. The attacks were sprung in ambush fashion, questioning the lip service some groups give to a spirit of “collaboration.”

September 28, 2011

Observations on DPS Framework news

It’s always a nice change of pace to see some good K-12 education news. Congrats and proper recognition are in order after yesterday’s revelation that a majority of DPS schools are in the green (“Meets Expectations”) or blue (“Distinguished”) on the district’s School Performance Framework. A few related observations follow: