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State ed board fulfills Oklahoma lawmakers' wish

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The state Board of Education has sent to the Legislature for its approval proposed rules for school districts that wish to continue operating four days per week. The rules’ focus on accountability should make them appealing to lawmakers who said that was their goal.

The Legislature in 2019 approved a bill that, beginning in the 2021-22 school year, will require districts to be in session at least 165 days instead of 180 days or 1,080 hours. The bill was supported by state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister and opposed by districts that have grown accustomed to the four-day weeks.

Those districts, many of them smaller and more rural, turned to four-day weeks amid state budget cuts, to save money. Although savings can be negligible, the four-day weeks have aided in teacher recruitment and have become popular with patrons. State leaders worry about their potential to hurt business recruitment, and Hofmeister has said fewer, longer days in class don’t necessarily create an optimal learning environment.

Last week the board, to its credit, unanimously approved higher standards for schools wishing to keep four-day weeks.

Elementary and middle schools would have to score at least a C in academic growth for math and English language arts on the state’s annual report carts. Early childhood centers wishing to keep four-day weeks must feed into an elementary school that meets eligible criteria for four-day weeks.

High schools would be required to score a C or higher in academic achievement, which is tied to state test scores, and in post-secondary opportunities on their annual report carts. High schools’ four-year graduation rates would have to meet the state average or 82%.

No schools in the bottom 5% on state report cards would qualify for four-day weeks.

Board member Estela Hernandez said her colleagues recognize that local control of schools is important, but that “we also need to ensure that best outcomes for our students are there.”

“We understand that every district is different,” Hernandez said. “We want to respect that and allow that, but we also have to say: Is the school at a C or above? And, I think that lawmakers would really have a tough fight to say, ‘You know what, here’s a D school, let’s give them four days.’ It’s kind of hard to say, ‘Let’s lower the bar.’”

Backers of districts using four-day weeks contend the rules are unfairly burdensome and would require most of them to return to five-day weeks because they won’t be able to meet the waiver criteria.

But Hernandez and the board are correct to say that requiring schools to obtain a C grade — that’s average — isn’t asking too much. That should be the minimum goal for any district, four-day or not.

The education board has provided lawmakers what they asked for last year. Now it’s their move.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›

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