Why not a 4-day week for City, School District?

In yesterday’s Strib: Workers, employers welcome 4-day week.

Public employers are at the forefront. In Minnesota, cities from Albertville to Zimmerman, counties and schools are making the switch or considering it… Higher energy costs are triggering the change, with employees saving 20 percent of their commuting gas money while building costs drop with less heating, cooling and even toilet paper used when the doors are locked on Friday.

Given the financial problems that our City and School District have/have had/expect to have (as well as the savings to employees who commute) why not seriously consider changing to a four-day week?


  1. Patrick Enders said:

    I’ve got a better idea: how about a four day work week for everyone?

    September 14, 2008
  2. Rob Hardy said:

    A four-day school week is not such a wild idea. See, for example, this story from a recent issue of Time. I think it would probably meet considerable resistance in Northfield, and would be a challenge to implement. But it’s something to keep in mind, I guess.

    September 14, 2008
  3. Rob Hardy said:

    Another thought. Childcare, on the weekday-without-school, would be a challenge for many parents. And let’s assume that parents are able to find childcare. I suspect the parents themselves would, in many cases, be driving their children to their childcare providers. The school district would save on transportation costs, but the parents would face additional costs for transportation and childcare.

    September 14, 2008
  4. I don’t know if this is a workable solution for this situation, Rob and Patrick, but I shall put it out as a possibility. The U of Chicago has an after school program for k-4 where the kids are supervised by college students as part of their studies, and where the kids really learn so much about life as they play chess, sports games, quietly study on their own, or even run their own post offices, cooking classes and stores, really any business or thing that come to the imagination. The kids really learn how to interact on a serious level and have fun at the same time and they love it!

    We had dances and plays for the kids from my classes, written largely by the kids, who also built stage sets from recycled and repurposed materials, as well as art galleries. We built bionospheres, replicas of downtown Chicago, a fairyland town, and had hand sewing classes where we made dolls and other stuffed toys for kids in the hospital, as well as a mediation room from materials leftover from the new gym construction.

    There is just so much you can do with a free day from school, given a place and an open plan.

    September 14, 2008
  5. […] 14, 2008 On LocallyGrown today, Griff has raised the question “Why not a 4-day week of City, School District?” (welcome to all of you who followed the pingback on LocallyGrown). With rising fuel costs […]

    September 14, 2008
  6. kiffi summa said:

    Fabulous idea, Bright…
    Something for the YMCA to consider?
    The gym at the Armory would lend itself well to different groups working on different projects.
    Also, remember the commercial kitchen downstairs at the armory; good lunches for all?

    September 14, 2008
  7. Jane Moline said:

    A 4-day school week works against competing for good employment and good employees on the world stage. Studies have shown that there is a corelation between number of school days and world ranking in educational areas such as math and science. Fewer school days equals lower ranking.

    The problems are especially difficult for the students. Younger children have a difficult time staying focused for the extra hours, older students must forego sports or miss some of the instructional day in order to participate in sports.

    The impoverisation of our public school system is part of a conspiracy to dismantle the public school system. The poor application of benchmarks through “No Child Left Behind” testing/failing results is another part–claiming that so many schools are failing because some students do not progress is part of a systematic attempt by foes of public education to persuade the general public that they should not support public schools.

    What we need right now is for everyone to step up and demand that we fund public education so that all of our kids can have access to an appropriate education. Which means, if we quit spending 300 million dollars a day in Iraq we could fund ALL the buses in ALL of the states for –oh say the next 100 years.

    September 14, 2008
  8. Ray Cox said:

    I’d like to see what people are adding up to get to the ‘savings’ of a 4 day work week. There is a lot of stuff to consider when a huge shift like this is under discussion…not a knee-jerk reaction to finding a few pennies somewhere.
    If the savings come because a person’s payroll is reduced 20%, then I can understand the savings. However, I cannot imagine that is whats is being discussed.
    I remember many years ago the Northfield school board factored in energy savings in shutting Longefellow school. Lo and behold…once all the hot little kids were out of the building, the energy savings were gone and it cost more to shutter it than operate it.

    September 14, 2008
  9. Rob Hardy said:

    For some frame of reference, here are the general fund savings estimated by the MACCRAY (Maynard-Clara City-Raymond) school district, which has gone to a 4-day week:

    substitute teachers: $10,298
    student transportation: $65,000
    energy: $5,780
    maintenance: $3,611
    faculty transportation: $994
    TOTAL: $85,683

    This is from a PowerPoint presentation prepared by the MACCRAY school district.

    September 14, 2008
  10. Patrick Enders said:

    $85,000 over what period of time?

    Childcare is an unfortunate, but very real, concern. I don’t see any easy solution to providing child care on that 5th day of the week – except for the parents to work 4 days a week as well.

    September 14, 2008
  11. Anne Bretts said:

    Providing programs and supervision, even with volunteers, will require transportation and heating the building, which would offset any savings from going to a four-day week.

    September 14, 2008
  12. Amy Hollerung said:

    As a parent of young kids I was intrigued by this topic and the comments so far. After looking at me daughters calender for this current year there are only 24 out of 40 weeks that are 5 day weeks. That also includes several early release or late start days. the remaining weeks are 4 days long or less. As for child care many parents have arrangement for “off days”.

    September 14, 2008
  13. john george said:

    Pat- My concerns, as well. As long as the American economy is geared to a 5 day work week, a 5 day school week seems only logical. Of course, this would appear to say that schools are just a publically funded day-care program there to benefit the working parents. I in no way want to infer that.

    The industry I work in requires coverage 7 days a week. It actually works quite well for many mothers to schedule their time around when their husbands are home. There are other industries, especially yours, that require 24/7 coverage. That field would seem to be exreemly difficult to staff, what with not knowing what patient loads will be from week to week.

    It seems there are certain costs to raising children that are hard to get away from. It is either going to be paid out for private child care or taxes to fund public schools. The only problem with it coming out of taxes is that it puts extra burden on the older segment of society who have no children in the home and live on fixed incomes. And, this next generation just coming into retirement age is the largest one yet.

    September 14, 2008
  14. Jane Moline said:

    I would think that with sports and other activities, any energy or custodial savings would be a pipe dream. The main push is transportation for 4 days versus 5 days per week.

    I think we are trading the quality of education for economic savings. Not a good choice. The world-wide push is that children learn more with more school days. They certainly won’t learn more with LESS school days.

    Anne Hollerung points out that only 24 of the 40 school weeks are 5 days–so how much transportation are we REALLY saving.

    September 14, 2008
  15. kiffi summa said:

    I really liked Bright’s ideas about activities … why not anytime, not just because of a four day week. Sounds much better than the “custodial”care that is often offered.

    However, Jane is right about the “impoverishment” of our school system. It IS a hoax, and a way to diminish the strength of what SHOULD be an exceptional public school system… Read everything by Jonathan Kozol , especially for his wonderful spirit… we should all have that productive sense of outrage.

    Rob: I feel really good about you running for school board and certainly intend to vote for you, and Ellen Iverson, and I’m not sure who else yet…

    But beware of Power Points; they are such simplistic tools that are able to present any info with a presumably factual base; something about the way PPs build screen upon screen, seeming to come to a logical conclusion, but more often just A conclusion, is persuasive on the surface, but often false when looked at in depth. A very bad tool often used to influence a not-very-knowledgeable audience.

    I’m very interested in the STEM school movement; it almost seems to be a reinvention of the cold war’s push for math and science educ. with environment thrown into the mix. I hope the new STEM charter is successful; I’m not sure exactly how it works without being attached to a school district, but I know they have an organizational sponsor.

    September 15, 2008
  16. Rob Hardy said:

    Kiffi: I agree with you about PowerPoints, which in my experience are often a tool to induce drowsiness rather than knowledge—at best, a knowledge-like state. The MCCRAY PowerPoint presentation was mostly based upon “personal communication” with other school districts with 4-day weeks, which I’m not sure I would call objective research. In any case, I’m not advocating for a 4-day week, I’m just trying to see what’s out there, and to learn about it so I can form an informed opinion. But you’re right, PowerPoints should be approached with caution.

    And thanks for your vote!

    September 15, 2008
  17. Thanks, Kiffi. More about the program at U of C. They have a great gym room, and it is heated by high windows to the east and west, and by an old time radiator system. It would often get majorly hot in there, windows would be opened in the winter! The college kids provide their own transportation, which around there was U of C buses, or walking or biking. The work was either work/study program paid by the college or volunteer or part of an internship.

    There was anywhere from 6-12 children per play leader.
    Also, I am sure there are seniors who would gladly interact.

    September 15, 2008
  18. Jane McWilliams said:

    Jane . . . thank you for calling attention to the essential issue – educating children. I believe that the 4-day school week is “penny wise and pound foolish.” There is no more important thing that we do in society than invest in the minds and creativity of children. I need to be persuaded that we think we can do a better job of this in 4 rather than 5 days before I would agree to it.

    If the driving force is saving money, let’s weigh that “benefit” against the impact on learning. Sure, we need to look for ways to live within our means . . . the economy is in a downward spiral, and public funds at every level are at risk. Looking at the long term, what we save today may cost us more in the long run . . . kids who have been cheated out of preparation for jobs and a rich quality of life.

    Talk with any teacher at any level and ask whether they think they have slack time in their 5-day schedule, and whether they could do as good a job with longer days and a shorter week. My guess is you’d find out they’re scrambling. At the same time public money is diminishing, the public’s expectations for learning is being regulated and quantified (remember “No Child Left Behind’?).

    My hunch is that, if we could afford it, we would be better off with longer school days, 5 days a week and school year round.

    September 15, 2008
  19. Peter Millin said:


    September 16, 2008
  20. Peter Millin said:

    In my personal opinion this is a bad move. It shifts the burden of cost away from the district to already financially stressed households.
    Aside from the financial stress it will add another day of juggling an already busy family schedule.

    We should keep a five day schedule and find money in other places to make up the difference. There is enough government fat around that could be trimmed.

    September 16, 2008
  21. Patrick Enders said:

    Peter wrote,

    In my personal opinion this is a bad move. It shifts the burden of cost away from the district to already financially stressed households.

    Yes, but the cost of schools already falls heavily on local households. If the 4 day week would reduce the local school budget, it could reduce the local tax levy. Wouldn’t that fit well with the conservative notion that the citizens themselves know best how to spend their hard-earned money wisely?

    September 16, 2008
  22. Peter Millin said:

    Maybe it will reduce the money for the school district, but do you seriously believe that we will see a reduction in our property tax? I don’t.

    Plus wasn’t this designed to offset the higher cost of energy?

    If you want real conservative thinking, than let’s reduce the direct tax burden and let parents chose where they would like to send their kids.
    It might go a long way in making our schools more competitive against the rest of the industrialized world.

    September 16, 2008
  23. Sean Fox said:

    Most of the savings I’ve seen quoted related to 4 day a week schooling have to do with reduced busing costs in rural districts where most kids have to be bused many, many miles to school. Seems like if one did the math for Northfield the numbers might not be so impressive. Anyone have access to the relevant numbers and willing to do the math?

    September 16, 2008
  24. Patrick Enders said:

    Peter wrote,

    If you want real conservative thinking, than let’s reduce the direct tax burden and let parents chose where they would like to send their kids.

    No, I don’t really want conservative thinking, real or imagined. I like the public school system, and I am proud to help pay for it.

    September 16, 2008
  25. nick waterman said:

    oh Patrick, AMEN! Remember when it used to be patriotic to invest in the country’s future? No one wants wasteful spending (really — even liberals like their money!) but some things count as actual needs and indeed we should be proud to keep them going.

    September 16, 2008
  26. Peter Millin said:

    I have no problem supporting our school system. Unfortunately the hard truth is that despite a constant increase in school funding, our children are falling behind against the rest of the world.

    Besides having been educated in Germany myself, my nephew and nieces are are going to schools in Hungary. They are about the same age as my children which makes a comparison very easy,

    If I compare the level of education of my nephew and nieces against our kids, let me assure you we are not even close.

    Northfield schools are above the nation average and we should be proud of this. However the US average is way below against other industrial nations.

    The sad part is that I don’t even know what the problem is, which is extremely frustrating. This is the reason why I am running for the school board.
    I don’t claim to have the solution but I am tired of the results. How come that despite technological advances and despite increased funding we can’t keep up?
    Something tells me that there is something going on that more money won’t fix.

    Does questioning the status quo make me unpatriotic? No, quiet the
    contrary. America was build on questioning authority.

    So please refrain from questioning my patriotism.

    September 17, 2008
  27. Jane Moline said:

    School vouchers that give parents “choice” are part of the tools used by an organized group attempting to dismantle the public school system. This group is systematically attacking public schools, including manipulation of data, influencing public policies and laws, such as “No Child Left Behind” and other regulatory requirements, with the systematic gutting of school funding, meanwhile continually claiming that our schools are “failing” and wasting our tax dollars.

    The idea that fewer days per week would have any hope of improving schools is just ridiculous.

    We have cut and cut out of the budgets while costs rise. Schools biggest expenditure is people–teachers and aides and administrators and librarians and band instructors and coaches and custodians. They all need and deserve access to affordable health insurance–which, if you look around, costs more today than–last year! and the year before! And the price of fuel-for busing and to heat our schools–also rises.–so what if our funding has not increased at the rate of the increase in health insurance premiums or fuel–we are continually expecting our schools to do more with less money.

    The state of Minnesota cut a BILLION dollars out of school funding under Jesse Ventura, and the naysayers and complainers have claimed that we have increased school spending when we barely get back to the level of funding we were at before the cuts–so when the legislature claims that they are increasing school spending, it is only based on the hole they dug for us in slashing funding.

    This is from a report to the Minnesota House dated February ’06:

    “After subtracting building debt and special education expenditures, inflation-adjusted school district revenue per student grew by 1.4 percent per year between 1984 and 2004.”

    Look at the graduating class at Northfield High School. A huge number graduated with honors. Yet we hear continually in the media how our schools are “failing.” We do fail with some of our students. But this continual “myth” that we are spending more and more and having more failure is not true, and plays into the dreams of our over-burdened taxpayers who are suffering under the same cost increases.

    We are providing an education to more students where English is their second language–in some districts it can be 18 different first languages! Fortunately for us in Northfield, we probably have only 4 or 5 first languages, with Spanish predominating.

    Ask any taxpayer if their cost for heating their house this winter has gone up. Ask any taxpayer if their cost for health insurance has gone up. Then ask them if the cost of fuel for their car so they can get to work has gone up. Now explain to me why we expect our schools to cover all of these expenses without increases in funding!

    Northfield’s school district has entered into a dangerous habit of cutting and cutting by eliminating important educational support positions–we only get a half of a librarian or eight-tenths of a band instructor. And because the parents still see a band instructor or a librarian, they don’t know that their child’s access to the library and band program has decreased.

    We don’t witness the difficulty the teacher has in a class when her aide was eliminated and she now must stop instruction to the entire class in order to help the one or two students who are not keeping up.

    It is time we all make a committment to fully fund public education, including preschool and special education. These children are our future–they are our future leaders, employees, bosses, business owners, and taxpayers. We must commit to providing them a “free and appropriate” education as REQUIRED by the constitution of the State of Minnesota.

    (Don’t come back and claim I don’t understand that it actually costs money and isn’t free–the requirement is that we provide it and it is FREE to ALL of our children.)

    September 17, 2008
  28. Holly Cairns said:

    Weird that Peter would think someone would question his patriotism. Sorry you feel you have to defend THAT. I’m quite patriotic myself.

    There is struggle– and we’ve got to be more fiscally responsible. The last eight years of Republican bloat and deregulation has left us financially unstable.

    Here we are talking about our children and an education system that is too expensive. Speaking of our children, how will they be able to prosper in a world where the USA has amassed a HUGE debt and continues to have deficit after deficit? We’ve got to be more responsible than that! And someone IS getting rich.

    Education can be the difference between poor and prosperous. I’d like to rant about the fact that St. Olaf will be $50,000 a year, soon. If my source is right.

    Back to the classroom. Something is amiss– teachers used to have classes of 20. Now there’s classes of 45. Nobody wants to be a teacher anymore, and students are sitting small in large classes. Day after day, kids quickly try to get a question in before class, only to be shuffled to the back. Good teachers will remember the kid needs help and find them in the class period, but day after day, that’s exhausting.

    Why? It’s all set up around the clock and movement. Not students and success. Cover this material, teach that material, know this and that, you should be on page 55 in the book and your class is falling behind because you’re on page 40, etc. There’s a lot to know, and if you stop to make sure there’s excellence in understanding, well, too bad for you, you never taught about anything past the Korean War. And your colleagues got to the Vietnam war, but not past that. Now, add “teach to the test”, and teachers are expected to be miracle workers.

    I wish we’d consider reality when we talk about schools. We want excellence, but we don’t want to pay for it.

    It might be a good idea to examine different school models. Should we have a test at the end of the year, and if the student doesn’t pass, hold them back? What about tracking kids in different schools– identifying them early on and then putting them in classrooms that fit their personalities? What about individualized learning? What about trying audio only classes, read only classes, see and do classes, etc. Ah, I see problems with all of these scenarios.

    The bottom line is we compete on a global level, and if our educational model fails, we all suffer. There’s no do-overs in education once the kid hits the streets. The boomers will soon be hunched over and medicated. Generation X will be worrying about retirement funds and finding good doctors. We need young leaders. So what is the answer?

    Anyone who suggests cuts in educational spending, which is the majority of the Minnesota Legislature’s budget, should really get in the schools to see things first hand. And figure out a good system, first.

    September 17, 2008
  29. Peter Millin said:

    Jane and Holly,

    You all make good points.
    BUT somebody needs to explain to me why we spend the most money of any country in the world on education but falling behind?

    Holly I do disagree with you about class size. When I went to school about 35 years ago we always had about thirty students in the class…and no aides.

    All of my kids today are around the same class sizes today in Northfield.

    Report: U.S. No. 1 in school spending
    Test scores fall in middle of the pack

    WASHINGTON (AP) –The United States spends more public and private money on education than other major countries, but its performance doesn’t measure up in areas ranging from high-school graduation rates to test scores in math, reading and science, a new report shows.

    “There are countries which don’t get the bang for the bucks, and the U.S. is one of them,” said Barry McGaw, education director for the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which produced the annual review of industrialized nations.

    The United States spent $10,240 per student from elementary school through college in 2000, according to the report. The average was $6,361 among more than 25 nations.

    The range stretched from less than $3,000 per student in Turkey, Mexico, the Slovak Republic and Poland to more than $8,000 per student in Denmark, Norway, Austria and Switzerland.

    The report cited Australia, Finland, Ireland, Korea and the United Kingdom as examples of OECD nations that have moderate spending on primary and lower secondary education but high levels of performance by 15-year-olds in key subject areas.

    As for the United States, it finished in the middle of the pack in its 15-year-olds’ performance on math, reading and science in 2000, and its high-school graduation rate was below the international average in 2001 — figures highlighted by Education Secretary Rod Paige.

    The country fared better in reading literacy among fourth-graders, where it finished among the top scorers in 2001. But the declining performance as students grow older served as a warning to the nation, Paige said.

    “These results highlight an extremely important truth about our educational system: I think we have become complacent, self-satisfied and often lacking the will to do better,” Paige said.
    International benchmarks

    Appropriate spending has emerged as a key political issue this year as the nation’s schools deal with federal reforms. The No Child Left Behind law demands better performance from students and teachers, particularly in low-income districts, but critics say Republican leaders in Congress have spent too little on the effort.

    The report, released Tuesday, sets international benchmarks and identifies areas for improvement.

    Based on educational level, the report says the United States spends the most on higher education for every student and is a leading spender on primary and secondary education.

    Paige said the nation must fill the gap between it and other countries, and bridge another between students succeeding in American public schools and those falling behind. Within that promising fourth-grade reading showing in the United States, Paige said, is a revealing number: the higher the percentage of poor students, the lower the average score.

    “There’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ fourth-grader,” Paige said. “We want to go to each fourth-grader. We need to see who needs the help.”

    The new federal law requires states to chart adequate yearly progress — not just for a school’s overall population, but for groups such as minorities and students who speak little English. Sanctions grow by the year for schools receiving low-income aid that don’t improve enough. Consequences range from letting students transfer to a better school within their districts to handing control of a poor-performing school to the state.

    “No other country is imposing such a rigorous requirement on its schools,” McGaw said.

    But from school boards to Congress, growing numbers of leaders say the federal government isn’t committing enough money to the task. States must, for example, expand their standardized testing and put a highly qualified teacher in every core class by 2005-06.

    Federal education spending has grown by $11 billion since President Bush took office, Paige said, but that includes spending beyond the first 12 grades. Even increased money for elementary and secondary education doesn’t cover the law’s sweeping expenses, said David Shreve of the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    “You can’t just mandate that things happen and then not follow up with the resources to make it happen,” said Shreve, senior director for the conference’s education committee.

    Comparisons of spending among countries is difficult, he added, because the systems vary widely.

    September 17, 2008
  30. Anne Bretts said:

    The Center for School Change in Minneapolis has a lot of research on new models for schools. But this conversation is only treating the symptoms without seeing the real illness.
    I share the concern for adequate funding for schools, but we also are facing a crisis in basic heating costs for the poor, inadequate shelters for the homeless, and inadequate services for what soon will be a flood of Baby Boomers who are indigent because they never thought they’d grow old. We don’t have enough money to fix the bridges or the roads or parks or bike trails. The last round of budget cuts left thousands of people without access to adequate legal representation, meaning innocent people will end up in jails that are overcrowded and have inadequate services for addicts and the mentally ill. I don’t want to have to choose between sending a kid to band class or an innocent, mentally person to jail. I shouldn’t have to choose, but there are no more easy ways to raise taxes. Housing losses mean property tax revenues are going crash, and even jobs we thought we couldn’t lose are being done overseas. (People who once flocked to Mayo are going to Asia and the Middle East for medical miracles. The business news you read and the ads you see in the Sunday paper are being generated in India.)
    We can’t just keep talking about schools as though anyone who opposes more funding is a monster. The cold hard fact is that the U.S. economy is built on a national credit card that is maxed out. We need to look at long-term integrated solutions to our problems, rather than just trying to ‘prove’ which cause is most worthy. That’s going to be really, really hard. Perhaps seniors will have to work in schools and parks in exchange for housing or healthcare. Perhaps empty-nesters will have to revive the boarding house as a way to provide housing for young workers.
    We are going to have to be very, very creative — and cooperative — to make it all work and keep even some of what we take for granted now. The fact is that BILLIONS of people in other countries want what we have and are willing to work hard for it — and willing to trash the planet as much as we have to get it.
    So we can talk about fixing the school down the street, but we have to begin thinking on a global scale. It may be too late already, but it’s the only hope we have.

    September 17, 2008
  31. Jane Moline said:

    Peter the error in the analysis of per pupil spending is on what the money is spent. Federal rules require that the states educate special education students in the public schools. Other countries have very different rules and requirements. If you take out the special educaiton costs, the US does not outspend other nations.

    Our public schools include a nurse who is a stop gap for families that can’t afford either the time or don’t have the insurance to go to a doctor–this extra expense is included in the per pupil cost.

    In the US, there is no national health system, so all health insurance costs are bourn by the school districts–not by the government–so per pupil spending is higher than in countries that have a strong, efficient national health system–like England, France, Germany, Japan, or China.

    If you take out personnel costs related to health insurance, we don’t outspend other nations.

    This type of statistical analysis is flawed without a good understanding of what goes into the numbers. We have large groups who want to dismantle the public school system and continue to present information with a misleading slant, like in this article.

    On the other hand, the achievement analysis is interesting–and I think shows that by bearing the burdens of school buildings, health insurance and special education divert funds from where they are needed. And by having a system that is constantly trying to cut costs, we cannot compete on a gobal scale.

    The article is also misleading in that it claims that the No Child Left Behind benchmarks that result in failing schools somehow actually identify failing schools or that only some schools receive “low-income aid,” and I quote:

    “Sanctions grow by the year for schools receiving low-income aid that don’t improve enough. Consequences range from letting students transfer to a better school within their districts to handing control of a poor-performing school to the state.”

    All public schools in Minnesota receive federal funds and are subject to the rules. The way the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program tests school is basically unfair, and does not make allowances for schools with constantly new transfer students who are not even in the school long enough to make any measurable progress, or with any special education students who are developmentally incapable of progressing beyond a certain level. This inherent unfairness in the testing was built in to make sure that public schools will fail so that federal funds could be withheld. This is part of the dismantling of the public school system.

    If you look at the schools that received failing scores under NCLB testing, you will find a list of some of the top public schools in Minnesota. However, if they fail for one group they fail the school–so if they have transfer students, special education students, etc. they will fail–the test will result, eventually, in every school in Minnesota failing. This is known to most public school administrators, and they are lobbying to have the tests changed to be more fair.

    Poverty is a leading indicator in education. The higher the poverty-level, the lower the education level of the students–and USA ranks up there on children living at or below poverty level. In Rice County, I believe median in come is less than $28000–which is above the poverty level income of about 21200 for a family of 4–but I would challenge anyone who thinks they live comfortably at even 28000.

    So the USA leads globally in poverty level children among developed nations–we have to spend more on our education if we want to compete–and we don’t compete because we really aren’t spending more.

    Anyway, if you do the analysis to equalize for federal mandates, special education, building and fixed costs, health insurance, subsidized nutrition programs and other inequalities–we don’t spend more, we just think we do.

    This feeds right in to politicians who tell their constituents that the teacher’s union or the superintendent or the state legislature or all those immigrant kids are the problem–and that the reason we pay so much is somebody’s fault–somebody is the bad guy. We need to quit looking for ways to get out of paying for public education and come up with better and more fair models for funding.

    I benefited from the “Minnesota Miracle” where school funding was revised in Minnesota so that no matter where you went to school–in an inner city, or out on the range, or in a rural community–the state allocation of aid would take into consideration the costs of education in your local and ability of local property taxes to support the schools–so if you were a cake-eater from Edina or a miner’s kid in Togo, you had the same chance for a fairly-funded public education. Now, some districts must close schools, lay-off teachers and increase class size because the local voters cannot pass a school referandum–they are all taxed out.

    (Note that the 30 students in my classes in elementary school did not include ANY special education students and little or no students below povety level. Current class sizes at 28 or 30 will contain 3 special ed students who have to leave the classroom for special instruction, and a number at or below poverty level–even in Northfield.)

    September 17, 2008
  32. Peter Millin said:

    So even if we add the cost of health care we are at best at par with the other countries.
    And don’t forget that health care in those countries isn’t free either, they just pay for it in a different way. Actually the money spend in those countries on health care far exceeds what we are paying for it. It is just not as obvious since it is hidden in your taxes.

    My mom’s (she is a blue collar worker) last tax rate before her retirement was 51%.

    I don’t want dismantle public education. What I want is to bring accountability to the school both for teachers and students to perform their respective tasks.

    Maybe “no child left behind” isn’t the right way of measuring performance, but either way we have to find a way to measure performance. How else do we know that we are on the right track?

    We need to seriously evaluate our curriculum, sometimes less is more. I am astonished by the speed and amount in which subjects are being taught today. I am a firm believer in the basics. It makes no sense teaching a young child geometry when it hasn’t grasped the times tables yet?

    Jane you and I are closer on this then you imagine. I want my kids to get a good education and I want them to be competitive. What I am resisting is the notion that throwing money at a problem will make the problem go away.

    September 17, 2008
  33. Jane Moline said:

    Peter, I think you are right that we probably agree on more than we differ (except, perhaps on the understanding of what a feminist is. Sarah Palin NOT.)

    However, the USA pays more in health care per captia than other developed countries and our mortality rates are higher for infants and we die earlier too-so the only ones getting the best health care in the world are the very rich and the rest of us schmucks are stuck with the crumbs.

    I agree with the basics, but for me, geometry is basic. Right now, in Northfield, we have a nearly non-existent “gifted” program for kids who are above -average in intelligence–and can easily do geometry in fifth grade and finish algebra in 7th–and go on to upper maths before graduating from high school–but this large group of high achievers are being denied the opportunity because we have to keep the curriculum at a speed so that there is “no child left behind.”

    Meanwhile, we are working our hardest to take developmentally disabled children and teach them how to take the test so that the darn school won’t be failed, even if that child would be better off in a program where they learn living skills like how to cook a simple meal, how to pay your rent and budget your income, and how to get to work on time clean and neat. Instead, we are forced to push these low-achievers in classes where they know they are at the bottom of the class.

    The “getting back to basics” argument always attracts a crowd. Ususally that crowd hasn’t been to our schools, where we have an administration that is cutting “Reading Recovery” because even if it was astonishingly successful, it cost too much, so we are returning to a less successful program to save some bucks–in the short run.

    Note that when students get to the third grade and can’t read, we end up spending more money on special ed and other programs–but who wants to look at the big picture when we can make a short term decision for short term gains?

    September 17, 2008
  34. Holly Cairns said:

    Peter, I suppose you think I can buy a flat in Manhattan for the same price as I can in Northfield… maybe that is so? Per pupil spending comparison doesn’t help as much as looking at available resources, etc.

    September 17, 2008
  35. Peter Millin said:


    I don’t want this to end up being a discussion on health care. True that we spend more as a % of GDP. But if you read further all of those systems are challenged. Fact is that most European countries are switching to a blend of private and government run health care. They have come to the realization that the government can’t do it all.
    You will also notice that the biggest challenge most government run programs have is to keep costs in line. Sound familiar?

    I have to say I am by no means rich , but my health care plan at work is very good and very affordable.

    When i went to school we had within the major subjects and A B and C group. A was for the high achievers “B” was for the middle of the road children and “C ” was for those that needed extra help.

    It was quiet possible for you to be in an “A” class in math and be in a “B” or even “C” class in language arts.

    I see too much “conceptual teaching” in school today. Where we touch briefly on a concept and move on to the next. Maybe my children are just slow learners, but they do have a hard time keeping up with the variety of concepts.
    If they sit down with their parents or a tutor and we take the time to explain the concept they usually understand it. I just don’t feel that in most cases this is being done in school.

    September 17, 2008
  36. Barry Cipra said:

    In posting #28, Jane Moline writes:

    “The state of Minnesota cut a BILLION dollars out of school funding under Jesse Ventura…”

    Jane, I am unable to find anything online to verify your statement. The closest I come (googling on “minnesota school funding ventura cut billion”) is a recent Minnesota Monthly article, which includes the following:

    “In 2002, Pawlenty and DFLer John Hottinger tag team Ventura, all but daring him to veto their budget agreement. In between, all three parties agree to flip property taxes upside down. They cut more than a billion dollars from the biennial budget—and make a mess out of school funding for years to come.”

    Is that the billion dollars you are referring to?

    The only other meaningful site I found was the transcript of a 2002 interview with Ventura on Twin Cities Public Television, in which the interviewer says:

    “Property taxes have been cut, as have car license tabs. Public school funding went up, and the state actually increased its budget to provide health benefits and wage subsidies to help welfare recipients enter the workforce.”

    Interesting, the Google search turned up one other pertinent webpage: this one!

    September 17, 2008
  37. Ray Cox said:

    Barry, you are correct. School funding in Minnesota has never gone down. The $1B figure Jane and others refer to is just so much rhetoric…sort one of those things that becomes an urban legend if you say it over and over enough and have reason to want to believe it is true. It isn’t true.

    There was indeed a budget shift that took place during the Ventura administration. Once school funding was removed from local taxes burdens the state assumed the burden. Many folks wanted the state to shift sales taxes and other things to deal with it. That was not done, so the state simply had do deal with its school budget just like it deals with all its other budgets, namely, decide how much to spend. That was done. But schools received increased funding that year just like they have every year. One can certainly argue how much new money schools need, but one cannot try and say schools were ever cut.

    September 17, 2008
  38. Patrick Enders said:

    Any plans to open a thread discussing the school board elections?

    September 17, 2008
  39. […] Comment on Why not a 4-day week for City, School District? by …Day after day, kids quickly try to get a question in before class, only to be shuffled to the back. Good teachers will remember the kid needs help and find them in the class period, but day after day, that’s exhausting. … […]

    September 18, 2008
  40. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks Griff. I missed that one in my travels.

    September 18, 2008
  41. Jane Moline said:

    Ray Cox’s explanation is true–in total dollars. But when you adjust for inflation and go to a per pupil basis, funding has decreased–according to Minnesota 2020, school funding has decreased on a per pupil basis for the last 5 years–while the Republicans continue to claim success because they are making gross dollar increases in funding–but their funding increases have not really kept up with inflation (see my last post) and inflation does not directly reflect our increases in costs of fuel and health benefits.

    (Peter, I pay 15000 per year for my family of 5–I don’t find this very affordable for me–I don’t know how others do it—you may have a subsidized policy through your work–but for most people, health care insurance is extremely expensive–and not affodable. That’s why we have so many uninsured citizens.)

    September 18, 2008
  42. Holly Cairns said:

    Peter said

    If they sit down with their parents or a tutor and we take the time to explain the concept they usually understand it. I just don’t feel that in most cases this is being done in school.

    There is so little time. It is nice that you are involved. The older they get, the less you are invited to be involved re: homework … I’m noticing, anyway.

    Where did you go to school, Peter, so your classes were in the 30’s? Are you talking about elementary classes?

    There are huge high school classes. 45 is a lot of kids, and one of my kids drifts to the back. (The other sits front, center)

    I like choice. It seems that’s where we’ve done our cutting– a class of 45 history students could be two history teachers instead of one. But, there are smaller classes such as 15? to allow for them to keep offering a great variety of classes (such as AP Statistics and AP Calculus, which my kids have been in but I am not sure about class size.)

    There have been no cuts, but the money isn’t keeping up with requirements such as for sped kids, etc., and inflation. It costs more to live than it did a few years ago. Heating costs are going to hurt this summer.

    September 18, 2008
  43. Jane Moline said:

    Also, Ray’s explanation for the billion dollar cut is true–they scrambled to fill the gap with one-time shifts and other budget cuts–but this is the change that precipitated our current situation with school funding–the state continues to rob other budgets to fill the school gap, and you can bet that there is a noticable decrease in state funding.

    That is why schools need referandum dollars to make up the difference.

    September 18, 2008
  44. Barry Cipra said:

    Jane writes:

    “Ray Cox’s explanation is true–in total dollars.”

    Jane, you made a BIG deal out of the fact that the state cut a BILLION dollars from school funding. My only dog in this fight is that when people state facts in support of an argument they strive to state true facts, as opposed to what Stephen Colbert, I think, refers to as “truthy” ones. I am, in fact, in general sympathy with what I take to be your views on funding for education.

    September 18, 2008
  45. Jane, I agree that the health care system is in need of reform. When I went on life support, we found we could purchase the life support machine for $540 with a one year guaranty and a five year life expectancy, which we chose over renting one and paying $140 per month, with the insurance company paying $1,344 per year for that same equipment, while we paid an additional $372. Bringing the cost of having that machine in my home to $1716 per year, more than three times the original cost of the machine
    when we let the insurance company pay.

    When we brought that to the insurance company’s attention, they just said, that’s the way we do it, and they refused to pay for us to buy the machine outright. Well, we did buy the machine and it’s a lot less paperwork, and we have saved $1320 over a five year period. Chances are the machine will last longer.

    Most people in that situation rent the machine and do not buy, simply because the option is not placed before them, but my dh and I are great
    researchers of stuff on the Internet and that’s how we found out about our being able to buy the machine and save mega bucks. With that, we then raised our deductible to $2700 per year and save another 1200 ollars…plus tax breaks, I think we save by spending our own money from tax breaks.

    Additionally, many medical items can be purchased on the internet
    for a better price than local suppliers charge…because Medicare will pay a higher rate to the sellers. We all pay for this. You want reform, it starts with people educating themselves. And in this day and age there is no reason not to look almost anything you want on line. It’s there, it’s just about free, so use it…it’s the most magnificent gift of the 20th and 21st century so far. Use it to improve your lives, to not let them lie to you, and
    to figure out what can be done right so that the people with the least can afford to live better.

    September 18, 2008
  46. Peter Millin said:

    I have two children i high school and one in middle school. None of them has a class larger then 30 to 35.

    In my days I had classes never larger then 30 maybe 32 all the way through my school years.

    In Germany you have the choice to leave school after nine years (which I did), then start a three apprentice ship for a trade. During your apprenticeship you go to more schooling which is specific to your trade.

    Or you go to 12th grade and then go to university. The choice of university and area of study is depended on your grad average. Doctors, Lawyers and Engineers usually demand a very high grade average and even then space is limited.

    September 18, 2008
  47. nick waterman said:

    Peter, I would argue that a class of 30 or more is really a very large class. It makes a big difference to be closer to 20 or so. that said, I do think the US has made a big mistake not having more paths. If, instead of the one-size-fits-all “go to college or be screwed” path, we had decent apprenticeship, trade school, and training programs, we’d be better off and happier. Colleges would not be filled with people who don’t want to be in them, but simply want a better life and have been told this is the only path. Those needing tradespeople would find well-trained and capable ones. We’ve made a grave error in somehow denigrating as less useful occupations that don’t require a college education. And the inevitable effect has been, ironically, that college educations mean less.

    September 18, 2008
  48. Peter Millin said:

    I am sure smaller class would help, but I don’t thing that this is the source of the problem.
    In my opinion a curriculum overload, lack of accountability and discipline are more important issues.


    However I do agree with your assessment on promoting trades. We do miss the boat on this issue by heavily emphasizing college.

    I came over here without a college degree, but since I had good trade skills I was able to make a good living for family.

    September 19, 2008
  49. Good article, Curt. I would add that the community college I attended had some great teachers. One story is about the fellow who Used to be an Illinois Institute of Technology, IIT (the real MIT of the Midwest, not that other ITT or phonies) prof, and who literally got kicked out of IIT for making too much ball lightning in the lab which was directly under the President’s Office. Hahaha. He was an excellent teacher though and the school was lucky to have him. Oh, ball lightning can get pretty noisy, bang, bang and all of that kind of thing.

    In Chicago, there is a vocation school called Chicago Vocational School, CVS on the southeast side where all the old steel mills used to be. It is a huge school physically, it took up like 40 acres. They taught auto, building, carpentry, everything like that. It was very popular…here you go… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Vocational_Career_Academy

    September 19, 2008
  50. Holly Cairns said:

    Peter said:

    I am sure smaller class would help, but I don’t thing that this is the source of the problem.
    In my opinion a curriculum overload, lack of accountability and discipline are more important issues.

    Curriculum overload, maybe. My idea is to take 10th grade US history and teach it in units: Governments and the choices we had to choose from as a new country, wars and strategy, social reform and uprising, economic factors, and a final unit which puts things in order, chronologically. But I bet it would take just as long as how we do it, now. Too much civil war, that I know. And civil war in 5th grade. And civil war in 7th grade. And in 12th grade (World history).

    But what is this about lack of accountability? We’ve got so many tests now that there is little time to cover the basics. What else is there to measure? How each dollar is spent? I think we can get tha pie chart, now, from the district.

    I don’t think OBE was all that bad, nor was the Grad Standards. That’s a different kind of accountability, but perhaps you aren’t talking about excellence in learning (or you re-teach.) If my Ruth had to prove she learned something to move on, we’d be thrilled. THRILLED.

    And, I wonder if we’ve got a funny notion about community colleges running here in this thread– one that doesn’t reflect typical thinking. My father-in-law taught calculus etc. at a technical college and then later the community college (same place) for 25 years. It seemed to be a great education for a heck of a lot of kids. Nothing to be ashamed about, and I heard there were kids that struggled and triumphed. Not easy curriculum. Smart choice especially if you want to make huge dollars as an electrician…

    September 19, 2008
  51. Peter Millin said:

    Accountability for results both from the teacher and students.
    Northfield is a good school district when compared within MN and the US, but when you compare the level of education to the rest of the industrialized world we are average at best.

    I would say that most of the teachers do a great job, but who polices the teachers? Who holds them accountable for doing their jobs?

    At one point in my career I was teaching in a vocational school. Those students just came out of high school, the lack of basic grammar and the inability of doing simple math in their head was a sad spectacle.

    My grammar as a foreigner was better then 50% of my students?

    What went wrong here? I am baffled and saddened.

    September 21, 2008
  52. Holly Cairns said:


    I don’t know what happened, or what class you taught. That’s too bad. I wonder if all the students at your vocational school were like that, or just the ones in your class?

    I don’t think there is an easy fix to the system. Jumping in with quick fix ideas probably isn’t a good idea.

    just to add to the mix, here’s thoughts:

    Maybe our kids just don’t value their education.

    As a high school teacher, I used to do a “reality check” assignment with all kids (not just the drifters). What if you were told you couldn’t go to school anymore? They all got 100% on that essay, no matter what they said. And then we’d have class discussion about making some kids stay home. The smiles disappeared. So, Maybe we should kick some kids out who don’t want to learn. The rest might get motivated. I see dire consequences with that method, though. Probably better to lead students toward believing they value their own education.

    Maybe our kids just have time management problems.

    I found many kids lack the ability to manage time– they don’t look at the clock and try to figure out “how much time is left before I need to…”. They don’t enjoy planning. They go from space to space, chair to chair, and then think “What? Is that assignment due?” I’m guilty of being a bit of a free spirit, myself, but I’ve learned there are important things to worry about and plan for. Maybe we should have a time management class and teach things like “put the due date on top of the assignment”.

    Maybe our kids have tracked themselves.

    I used to ask students “what kind of student” are you? It’s my theory they track themselves into being “A” students, “B” students, etc. I’d ask the “A” students what they did to prepare for tests and finish basic assignments, and they often did different things than the average “B” student did, etc. There are patterns to student success, and it’s never too late to change patterns, but the earlier the better. Maybe we can hand a list of “A” student patterns out at the start of every year or class we’ll find more success.

    90% percent of how well a student does probably goes back to “effort” instead of “smarts”. There is a variance in “smarts”, but effort can make the difference. I believe that, anyway. Maybe teachers could do more thinking about these things as they write their objectives.

    Anyway, rambling on. But as to the basics? Very important. And more for the kids that could use enhancement and are quick to learn, we should provide that, too.

    September 22, 2008
  53. Holly Cairns said:

    So, teachers and students have a lot to do in the average week. Will longer classes/ days help the learning process? I don’t think so. Brain overload.

    But heating costs will be troublesome this year. The McCray district will save a lot of money by going to the four day… but is it worth it? Maybe so, if the district would “bust” if they didn’t save money, somehow…. better to provide some education than have the state control the district… or what…

    September 22, 2008
  54. One of the major things I have noted about my Catholic school days and my public school days is the lack of memory training in the latter. In case you forgot and don’t want to make the effort to re-read the first sentence, now what was I talking about, oh yeah, those public schools don’t put much emphasis on developing the students’ memories.

    In fourth grade, we spent an hour every morning going over multiplication and division tables out loud. To this day, I can tell you what 8×8 is or 12×12 or 9×7, or 132 divided by 11 is, without thinking a second. Once you have developed a memory by rote, you accomplish two things, you have put facts or knowledge into your mind, and you have strengthened the muscles of the brain, ie, the neuro pathways, that will last for a long time, depending on how deep you have made the pathways and if you use your math or other skills over time.

    Are schools doing this type of work, or do the kids complain too much that they have done that before? Maybe this generation of kids learn by not paying that much attention to something.

    September 22, 2008
  55. Oh, I also want to say that kids around the globe are attending school more than 9 or 10 months a year, and seeing as how American kids don’t do summer farm work all that much, maybe we should consider more class time than less, if we are to compete on a global scale.

    September 22, 2008
  56. Holly Cairns said:

    Memorization? Ack! Tricks to help memorization? Great!

    School throughout the year… good idea. I wonder how much that would cost.

    September 22, 2008
  57. Holly, what kind of tricks are you talking about? Like if I want to remember your name, I think of the fact that ‘deer don’t eat holly, and they are not carnivores’?

    September 22, 2008
  58. Holly Cairns said:

    Yep, “mnemonic device.” Athough your deer in the woods idea has me thinking “What?” Maybe it’s better for me if you don’t explain.

    Anyway, the four day week would not help learning, I would think. Trying to bring it back on topic.

    September 22, 2008
  59. Patrick Enders said:

    At the Carleton College forum tonight, Paul Hager brought up the possibility of a four-day week for city government. Didn’t endorse it, but mentioned it as one of many things that should be considered in a very tight budget year.

    October 7, 2008
  60. Bruce Wiskus said:

    I for one would like to look into year round schools before we build anymore facilities.

    I worked with a person from a Denver area suburb that did year round school and it was sounded like a sound plan. Kids would go 3 months have 1 month of and repeat the cycle. The kids were broken up into 4 groups. Three would be in school and one would be on vacation every month. This cut the needs for additional facilities, a large savings.

    Like anything there are pros and cons on both sides, but I would like to see it looked at.

    October 8, 2008
  61. Peter Millin said:

    We need to look at the growth projections for this area before we decide on new buildings.
    I expect to see a slow down of people moving to Northfield in the near future. Given what the costs of energy are I doubt a lot of people would move that far away from MSP. Most of the growth would come from people that are able to make a living within a closer radius.

    Having said that we should look at our real needs for spending on infrastructure and decide what our priorities should be. We need to look at the bigger picture here.
    Do we really need to expand Rt. 19 ? Do we need another access road to 35?
    How about temporary trailers?
    Are there other buildings that could be revamped to catch some of the overflow of students?

    Certainly Bruce’s idea demands a closer examination.

    As a nation we have a large deficit and most of the middle class is taxed enough already. Tough times demand tough measures, sacrifice and creative thinking.

    October 8, 2008

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