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Oklahoma schools pushing to keep 4-day weeks amid new rules

December 18, 2019 GMT

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Education advocates in Oklahoma are fighting to keep four-day school weeks as the state school board proposes new restrictions that could threaten the shortened schedules.

Supporters of the shortened weeks said the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s rules would force most districts to restore five-day schedules, The Oklahoman reported. Of Oklahoma’s 525 public school districts, 113 operate four days a week.

The department created a list of rules in response to state legislation passed this year, which set the minimum length of a school year to 165 days instead of 180 days or 1,080 hours.

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Lawmakers passed Senate Bill 441 to make it more difficult for schools to operate on shorter schedules. Some Republicans have said four-day school weeks will tarnish the state’s reputation and diminish students’ education.

Districts will be exempt from the bill if they meet the department’s requirements.

Elementary and middle schools must meet or exceed the state average for academic growth in math and English language arts in order to be exempt, and high schools are to be at or above the state average for academic achievement, which is based from annual test scores. High schools will also be expected to meet the state’s average graduation rate or reach 82%, and it must meet the state average for post-secondary opportunities.

During a public hearing Monday, educators and families with the four-day weeks said the exemption would be unreachable for most districts. But State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister disagreed that standards are too high.

“Treading water, standing still, not declining is hardly what we should be satisfied with,” Hofmeister told The Oklahoman. “(The) state board of education is going to want to see growth and academic achievement as part of the demonstration that students are growing and are continuing to be successful.”

Even Oklahoma’s highest-performing districts would struggle meet the requirements, said Erika Wright of the Noble Public Schools Board of Education. She said 93% of the districts operating four days a week would fail to keep their schedules.

“We were promised a set of rules that would be fair and attainable by districts,” Wright said.

The advocates argued schools should qualify if there is no drop in academic measurements, rather than meeting the state average. They also requested that the district should not consider post-secondary opportunities.

The board is expected to vote on the list of rules before the state Legislature meets in February. Lawmakers will then have to approve it.