The Impact of a Four-Day School Week

. Sunday, August 17

Days are getting shorter, nights a little cooler, and fall is approaching.  We'll be back to the morning rush to get everyone ready and out the door, kids will be waiting at bus stops and the all too familiar arguments about whether homework is done every evening will resume. While parents and kids may greet this time of year with excitement and relief, there may be some changes to this school year that will substantially add to parents' already stressed budgets.

According to an article in Time this morning, one out of seven schools are seriously considering a four day school week with Mondays off. While school districts struggle with the high cost of diesel fuel, the budget-cutting options are few and, in one way or another, detrimental to the quality of education children receive.

Where schools can cut back is on field trips, extracurricular activities that require busing, they can lay teachers off, close schools entirely, or shrink bus routes and cancel busing service entirely. The four day school week seems to be the lesser of the evils to many school boards. The school day will be extended an hour and breaks shortened so that students spend the same amount of time in the classroom.

Though the four-day schedule would be a substantial savings in fuel, payroll, insurance and building utilities, there have been no formal studies on the impact a condensed schedule would have on student performance. A few districts in rural areas of states such as Kentucky, Louisiana and South Dakota that have already changed to the shortened school week reported a decrease in absenteeism in both students and teachers and some academic gains if the school then invests freed monies in instructional content and tutors.

What may be a solution for today may have long-term, very detrimental effects on education. Time spent in school is a known, positive and extensively studied factor in academic performance. The US has a shorter academic year than all other industrialized nations, and the result is correspondingly lower achievement rates in math and language skills. "All the evidence says the more hours our schools are open, the better off our kids are... Cutting days puts our country's economic future at risk."

The four-day school week will shift the economic hardship from schools directly to parents. Briefly acknowledged in the Time article, the impact of the shortened school schedule will cause a major burden for households already stretched to the breaking point by high food, gas and utility costs. Younger children will need additional childcare, which is already expensive, on top of the additional gas it will take to drive them to childcare. With children home another day, grocery lists will grow, taking another chunk out of the family budget. Add this to the cost of buying school supplies and new clothes, and it could sink families already struggling with the escalating cost of living. And with colder weather on the way, this is not a good time to add even more strife to an already stressed and difficult financial situation.

Ideally, kids could use the extra day off to work on school projects and homework. But, is it fair to make children responsible for their own education? How likely is it that an exhausted teenager will use the extra day off productively? Left unsupervised, how many kids will get into trouble? How is it an option to shift schools' financial woes to families and children -- and, our country's future?


The Natural State Hawg said...

I'm all for it, provided I also get a four-day workweek so I can be home with my kids when they're not in school.

That, actually, might work. Still, you raise some good points -- would that ultimately impact the ability of children to learn? Do they need the structure that a five-day week provides?

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