Four-day schools: A 24-hour turnaround from Otter?

Gov. Butch Otter would like someone to look at how Idaho’s four-day schools are performing academically.

Maybe the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education or his education task force.

Otter Task Force 2015
Gov. Butch Otter and Boise High School senior Simone Migliori attend Wednesday’s education task force meeting.

Otter hasn’t made a formal request. He floated the idea at the end of Wednesday’s task force meeting. But it’s still a departure from Tuesday, when he seemed to downplay the issue in an interview with Idaho Education News and Idaho Public Television.

Here’s the chronology.

Tuesday: I joined Melissa Davlin and Seth Ogilvie of Idaho Public TV to interview Otter about four-day schools — as part of our research for our joint project that will run later this month.

One of our main questions centered on the shortage of research into academic performance at four-day schools, a problem that isn’t unique to Idaho. We wanted to get Otter’s opinion on the lack of research — and the fact that more and more districts are adopting the four-day schedule, in the absence of hard numbers on academics.

Otter conceded that it’s hard to gauge the four-day schools. “Until we get the evidence in … I think we’re spinning our wheels.”

But when it came to gathering the evidence, Otter sent mixed messages. At one point, he suggested it might be something he’d bring up with the task force. We later asked about the State Board — a panel that serves at the pleasure of the governor, and a group that Otter says should focus more of its attention on K-12 issues.

Otter said he hasn’t brought up the issue with the State Board.

“But I haven’t purposely not asked the State Board. What am I going to ask them?”

Wednesday: Here’s what Otter asked for, as the task force wrapped up its meeting. “I think whether (it’s) the Department of Education, or whether (it’s) the State Board… but somewhere within this representation of this group, we need to have somebody take look at four-day performance versus five-day performance.”

Otter referenced Tuesday’s interview in passing, and restated a point he made at that time: The four-day schedule appears to be popular in many rural communities. But he also said the state needs to provide “guidance” to rural districts.

State Board member Richard Westerberg said the board will work with the State Department of Education to gather evidence, but acknowledged the obstacles.

5-day-series-on-4-day-schools270“Unfortunately, the data we have is not specific enough to give those districts the real tools they need to make that decision.”

Coming this month

How do four-day schools affect students and teachers, parents and families, taxpayers and communities?

Idaho Education News and Idaho Public Television are teaming up to get answers.

Log on to IdahoEdNews.org from Nov. 16-20 for “Rescheduled Education,” an in-depth look at four-day schools.

Then, watch Idaho Public TV’s “Idaho Reports” on Nov. 20 to see and learn more.