Virtually every legislative candidate who met the Tucson Citizen Editorial Board this year made the same vow:
High-quality education would be a priority. Arizona’s K-12 system needed to be world-class. First-rate. Top notch. Blah-blah.
Now the winners, Democrats and Republicans, must back up those promises. They should provide enough funding so districts will not have to condense their school weeks to four days.
Several Arizona school districts are considering such a concentrated schedule to save money.
Districts depend heavily on state funding, and they’re assuming that Arizona, hobbled by a budget deficit that could reach $1.4 billion next year, will be cutting the state’s already meager allocations for education.
Districts estimate they can save 3 percent to 15 percent by going to the condensed schedule.
A four-day school week is not a new idea. Many small, rural districts are on a four-day, extended-hours regimen.
Make no mistake: A four-day week is not an “innovation” hatched to make education better. It’s an idea borne of financial desperation.
The best that can be said of the concept is that is does not appear to harm student achievement.
But it does increase stress. The superintendent of a Gila County district acknowledges that adding an hour or more makes a “long, long day” for youngsters.
It’s difficult for older students, too, who each evening have to squeeze in extracurricular activities, work and study. And for parents, finding day care becomes even more complicated.
We don’t always agree with Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction, but he’s correct in opposing four-day school weeks. “The more days the students are in school, the more they’ll learn,” he says.
Research bears out Horne’s contention. Arizona, like most states, mandates a 180-day school year – three weeks less than most of Europe and Asia, where students usually outperform U.S. kids in math, science and reading.
And nearly 100 percent of eighth-graders attending a network of San Francisco charter schools, where the school year is 60 percent longer, bettered their public-school counterparts in state math and language arts exams.
So, legislators, given that educational achievement is tied to a longer school year, will you fund districts so they can keep schools open Mondays through Fridays? Will you live up to those election-cycle promises?
Think of it as the first quiz of your term. Flunking will send the sad message that squeezed school schedules, while not conducive to better education, are OK with our state’s lawmakers.
And, as usual, it will be the kids who suffer.