In 120 school districts across the country, kids always have a three-day weekend. As a means to balance increasingly tight budgets, some school districts are moving to a four day school week.
One of those districts is Peach County Schools in Georgia. Faced with laying off 39 teachers last year, the 4,000 student district chose instead to close down schools one day a week, cutting over $400,000 from their budget. And it paid of in more ways than one.
Kids came to school more often, as did their teachers, cutting the substitute teacher budget by two thirds. Test scores rose, and the graduation rate will reach 80 percent for the first time in years, say district officials. Working parents in Peach County were able to send their kids to an inexpensive “Monday care” program sponsored by the local Boys and Girls club.
It’s working for Peach County, but can four day school weeks really have a positive impact on learning?
There just isn’t enough research, say experts. In fact, all of the data they have comes from anecdotes like Peach County. From the Brattleboro Reformer:
Experts say research is scant on the effect of a four-day school week on student performance. In fact, there is mostly just anecdotal evidence in reports on the trend with little scientific data to back up what many districts say, said University of Southern Maine researcher Christine Donis-Keller.
“The broadest conclusion you can draw is that it doesn’t hurt academics,” said Donis-Keller, who is with the university’s Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation.
In Marlow, Okalahoma, the four day school day didn’t work for students or teachers. While Peach County officials say their instruction has taken on a “laser-light focus,” teachers in Marlow felt that instruction suffered using the new schedule. “It was harder on the teachers. We were asking the kids to move at a quicker pace,” district Superintendent Bennie Newton told the Brattleboro Reformer. “We’re hoping the four-day week won’t come into play next year.”
Schools are finding more and more creative ways to balance their budgets. Four day school weeks were once typically used in rural districts or when students had long commutes, but now they can be found in districts across the country. My local school district had a three week winter break last year to cut back on heating costs, and in my children’s private school, the fourth grade teacher will be replaced by a half-time teacher and the principal, at least temporarily.
I love the idea of a four day school/work week for everyone, because I think that people are happier, more focused, and more productive when there’s a good work/life balance. But an idea like that requires an overhaul of the system. To just cut one day of instruction without making significant changes to the school day and curriculum runs the risk of selling kids short. And constantly changing the school calendar is hard on working parents, who rely on consistency to provide child care when their kids aren’t in school.
How would you feel if your district went to a four day school week?