Binding Thread? Four-Day School Week Research & Denver's Roots Elementary

Sometimes a little edublogger sees two small interesting stories to cover, and leaves it to insightful readers like you to figure out the connection. Today is one of those somewhat interesting occasions.

Let’s start over at Education Week, where a recent post by Liana Heitin caught my attention. A newly published study of 15 rural Colorado elementary schools show that changing the school week from five days to four brought about clear improvements in math and likely has the same sort of effect on reading. (It may even help student attendance, but those results weren’t definitive.)

The average person’s reaction to such news might be a true head-scratcher. The research doesn’t provide any real insights into what causes this counterintuitive result. All these schools are still providing the required instructional hours, just packing them into longer days and extending the weekends.

Some complementary research from Idaho released a couple months ago shows that making the shift to the shorter school week yields no savings, and in a few cases, actually incurs extra costs. Crazy, huh?

Think about what that does to one of the leading claims from the 2013 Amendment 66 debate to raise taxes statewide for Colorado K-12 education: that we had to help all these poor rural districts who were shifting to four-day school weeks out of poverty and desperate necessity. Even back then, little Eddie shot that myth apart. This new research finishes the job.

Okay, sharp turn now to story number 2. Chalkbeat’s Ann Schimke wrote a nice feature on a unique new blended learning charter school in northeast Denver, called Roots Elementary:

The September morning marked a new beginning for students at Roots, which opened its doors in mid-August in the Holly Square neighborhood’s Hope Center. It was the first day that each child was following a personalized schedule, moving to a new station every 15 minutes for much of the day.

Principal Jon Hanover, a former business consultant and kindergarten teacher, said, “It’s literally the first time something like this is happening with elementary school.”

A quote like that ought to raise your eyebrows in curiosity. Hanover, who was a successful teacher at Rocky Mountain Prep, appears to have taken that school’s unusual rotation model to a new level. As the principal points out in the story, the challenging needs of the community prompted an innovative and very thoughtful try at something different.

Hanover explained the story behind Roots on air to one of my Education Policy Center friends more than a year ago. (They always seem to be trying to get ahead of the curve, don’t they?) Now the rubber meets the road, and this excited little blogging prodigy wishes them all the best!

Yes, some of you may have figured out the connection between the two stories, and it’s not just because they both cover elementary schools. The binding thread is challenging conventional wisdom. While research has nearly turned upside down the accepted thinking on the four-day school week — overwhelmingly a rural concern — a new urban public charter school is looking to do something similar with the elementary instruction model.

In the end, the goal is for it all to work out better for more students. Once in awhile, you’ve got to surprise everyone, just to keep them on their toes.