First Person

Commentary: Could four-day weeks be beneficial?

Ben DeGrow is a public policy analyst with the Independence Institute, focusing on education labor issues.

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….

I’ll leave it to the academics to parse out the methodology and the fine print, and to place the study in the larger context of research on the question. But the findings are enough to give pause, or some small degree of reassurance, to local policy makers. I certainly wouldn’t recommend a statewide mandate for schools and districts to switch to four-day weeks. It’s a matter of local concern, and those most directly affected have to chime in and to buy in.

However, such research may inform or persuade their decisions. They also likely would want to know what might explain the positive findings. The study’s authors offer as possible explanations greater teacher flexibility, reduced teacher absenteeism, more focused use of instructional time, and improved student attendance. They also suggest the possibility that the flexible scheduling may benefit student-athletes and some parents.

While there always will be other factors to consider in making a significant scheduling change like so many Colorado school districts have done, I find it noteworthy that switching from a five-day to a four-day school week might actually prove beneficial to student learning in some contexts.

Thus, the four-day week may lose its luster as a plank for K-12 tax hike advocacy. Many school districts made the switch for financial reasons. How much cost savings have they realized, though? Perhaps it’s time for a closer look — and time to dust off that copy of Stretching the School Dollar

First Person

With roots in Cuba and Spain, Newark student came to America to ‘shine bright’

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Layla Gonzalez

This is my story of how we came to America and why.

I am from Mallorca, Spain. I am also from Cuba, because of my dad. My dad is from Cuba and my grandmother, grandfather, uncle, aunt, and so on. That is what makes our family special — we are different.

We came to America when my sister and I were little girls. My sister was three and I was one.

The first reason why we came here to America was for a better life. My parents wanted to raise us in a better place. We also came for better jobs and better pay so we can keep this family together.

We also came here to have more opportunities — they do call this country the “Land Of Opportunities.” We came to make our dreams come true.

In addition, my family and I came to America for adventure. We came to discover new things, to be ourselves, and to be free.

Moreover, we also came here to learn new things like English. When we came here we didn’t know any English at all. It was really hard to learn a language that we didn’t know, but we learned.

Thank God that my sister and I learned quickly so we can go to school. I had a lot of fun learning and throughout the years we do learn something new each day. My sister and I got smarter and smarter and we made our family proud.

When my sister Amira and I first walked into Hawkins Street School I had the feeling that we were going to be well taught.

We have always been taught by the best even when we don’t realize. Like in the times when we think we are in trouble because our parents are mad. Well we are not in trouble, they are just trying to teach us something so that we don’t make the same mistake.

And that is why we are here to learn something new each day.

Sometimes I feel like I belong here and that I will be alright. Because this is the land where you can feel free to trust your first instinct and to be who you want to be and smile bright and look up and say, “Thank you.”

As you can see, this is why we came to America and why we can shine bright.

Layla Gonzalez is a fourth-grader at Hawkins Street School. This essay is adapted from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.

First Person

From ‘abandoned’ to ‘blessed,’ Newark teacher sees herself in her students

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Jennifer Palumbo

As I sit down to write about my journey to the USA, all I can think of is the word “blessed.”

You see my story to become Ms. Palumbo started as a whole other person with a different name in a different country. I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but my parents either could not keep me or did not want me. I was, according to my adoption papers, “abandoned.” Abandoned is defined as “having been deserted or cast off.” Not a great start to my story, I know.

Well I was then put in an orphanage for children who had no family. Yes at this point I had no family, no home, not even a name.
I spent the first 10 months of my life in this orphanage. Most children at 10 months are crawling, trying to talk, holding their bottles, and some are even walking. Since I spent 10 months laying in a crib, I did none of those things.

Despite that my day to be chosen arrived. I was adopted by an Italian American couple who, after walking up and down rows of babies and children, chose to adopt me. My title just changed from abandoned to chosen.

But that wasn’t the only thing about to change. My first baby passport to leave Colombia is with the name given by the orphanage to an abandoned baby girl with no one. When I arrived in America my parents changed that name to Jennifer Marie Palumbo and began my citizenship and naturalization paperwork so I could become an U.S. citizen.

They tried to make a little Colombian girl an Italian American, so I was raised speaking only English. Eating lots of pasta and living a typical American lifestyle. But as I grew up I knew there was something more — I was something more.

By fourth grade, I gravitated to the Spanish girls that moved into town and spent many after-schools and sleepovers looking to understand who I was. I began to learn how to dance to Spanish music and eat Spanish foods.

I would try to speak and understand the language the best I could even though I could not use it at home. In middle school, high school, and three semesters at Kean University, I studied Spanish. I traveled to Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Honduras to explore Spanish culture and language. I finally felt like the missing piece of my puzzle was filled.

And then the opportunity to come to Hawkins Street School came and as what — a bilingual second-grade teacher. I understood these students in a way that is hard to explain.

They are like me but in a way backwards.

They are fluent in Spanish and hungry to obtain fluency in English to succeed in the world. I was fluent in English with a hunger to obtain it in Spanish to succeed in the world. I feel as a child I lost out.

My road until now has by far not been an easy one, but I am a blessed educated Hispanic American. I know that my road is not over. There are so many places to see, so many food to taste, and so many songs to dance too.

I thank my students over the past four years for being such a big part of this little “abandoned” baby who became a “chosen” child grown into a “blessed teacher.” They fill my heart and I will always be here to help them have a blessed story because the stars are in their reach no matter what language barrier is there.

We can break through!

Palumbo is a second-grade bilingual teacher Hawkins Street School. This essay is from “The Hispanic American Dreams of Hawkins Street School,” a self-published book by the school’s students and staff that was compiled by teacher Ana Couto.