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Four-Day School Week Trend May Save Money But It Cheats Students

Fewer days in class might save a few dollars on transportation and school lunches, but there aren't any clear benefits to student achievement and it would mean less time for extracurricular activities.

If everybody works for the weekend, will everybody work harder for a longer weekend? I really don’t know, but I do know a new trend in education trend has been quietly growing. In 2010 about 120 school districts were on a four day school week. The following year 300 school districts were operating on a four day week.

The idea is to add about an hour and a half to the school day Monday through Thursdays with schools closed on Fridays to help reduce costs related to transportation, staffing, energy, and even serving school lunches. But is the monetary savings worth the potential cost in student learning?

According to the school districts participating in the four-day school week, there seems to be no loss, or gain, in student achievement. They claim students are more focused with fewer breaks in the school day and have the opportunity for more in-depth learning due to fewer disruptions. Students have to opportunity to explore independent learning in areas of interest on their day off, and, with no school on Fridays, some high school students are using the time to take internships In addition, the longer school day offsets the reduced number of days and in some cases has increased staff and student attendance. 

In my opinion, going to a four-day school week is nothing more than a last-ditch, desperate effort to save cash. The possible benefits to student learning have no basis in fact that I could locate and the benefits stated by the school districts that instituted the plan sound a just a little fishy.

  Kids have enough trouble focusing for 50-minute intervals, let alone 65-minute periods. I don’t know of a single student who is disappointed that the period is over, no matter how interesting the lesson, upon hearing the bell ring. Plus, the impact on younger students who fatigue more easily and may need child care on the fifth day doesn’t seem like a good plan for the child or the parents. Although some teenagers may use the time to explore personal interests or take internships, I wonder how many more would spend the extra time playing video games and watching reruns of "How I Met Your Mother."

If the school day is lengthened, when would there be time for sports or extra-curricular activities? Kids don’t have enough hours in the day as it is. If cross country practice or jazz band rehearsals start two hours later, when is there time to do homework? There isn’t. Not offering extra-curricular activities is another way schools are cutting costs as well so fitting them in would probably not be an issue. A longer school day also limits the time teens have for part-time jobs.

No matter how the school district spins it, shortening the school week is a bad idea. It’s the first step toward scrapping the idea of school altogether and installing robots in homes to teach Asimov-style, which would really save on transportation, teacher salary, and school lunch costs.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, there is little danger of this happening since the condensed schedules do not allow time to teach the writings of Isaac Asimov, or anyone else, although I’m pretty sure the idea has come up in more than one school board meeting. But students will still have to opportunity to explore classic literature on their own, which has about as much chance of happening as having robots in everyone’s homes to replace school.  

About this column: Susan Schaefer,M.A.T., M.ED. director and founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an academic coach, student advocate, and certified teacher.

We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com. You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

Peter Dinella March 18, 2013 at 02:49 PM
This is a complicated issue, since there are so many variables to consider. In some cases, it appears, a 4-day school works: "Low-cost options, like four-day weeks, can prove beneficial to achievement as well. The research isn’t definitive, but some districts that have tried this are seeing unintended benefits in the form of higher test scores, decreased disciplinary problems, greater collaboration among teachers, and higher morale." See the link below for the full story: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing-a-school/Time-in-school-How-does-the-US-compare
Marilyn March 18, 2013 at 04:16 PM
But, Bill, school was never meant to be day care.
Marilyn March 18, 2013 at 04:35 PM
Good article, Peter and when our son started school, he'd started when we lived in Alabama, which, by the way, does not have mandatory kindergarten, but if your child wished to attend, it was a full day. Ours wanted to and though he was still four at the start of the school year, he was allowed to. I saw no lack of interest, he learned a lot and unfortunately, when we moved back to CT, and kindergarten at a half day, was required, our child was already reading, knew the alphabet and could both write and print his name, as well as simple sentences. He learned math basics, science and history as well - I'd have to say once back here, with the half-days, he learned nothing and was bored. So, a four day week would be a good option, because children can and do have a good attention span at a young age - they're eager to learn and can retain a lot. I will probably never understand grades like pre-k, half day anythings, as there's no real learning that seems to go on. You can learn as much, if not more in four full days, as in five. For who ever said that children won't read on days off - I did, as did our son. We're avid readers to this day.
Peter Dinella March 18, 2013 at 09:49 PM
Marilyn, I'm glad you enjoyed the article. But, hidden in your comments is probably the real reason why your son does well: your influence on him to read. My Mom and Dad always read and encouraged me to do so. Parents are the #1 reason why kids succeed or fail in school. Don't ever let up.
Peter Dinella March 18, 2013 at 09:56 PM
Michael, parents demonstrated attitude toward education is the number one reason why kids succeed or fail in school. In a multiple regression analysis, I'd bet that parental influence comes out on top as the most influential factor in academic success. Lastly, your data that "our kids are in school so much less than their competition abroad" is wrong. Better get back on Google and check your facts.

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