Most of us would love an extra day off. For me, that would almost be preferable to an equivalent amount of money as a bonus — while I’m always short of money (I do have three kids, after all), I’m even more short on time. But an extra day off may not be the best idea if it comes every week and if it means putting in extra hours each day to make up the time. That’s hard enough to do as an adult, but as a child it’s got to be near impossible. And yet, some school districts are making kids stick it out for an extra hour and a half each day in order to switch to a four day school week.
More than a hundred school districts around the country have switched to a four-day week, primarily in order to save money. One less school day each week means big savings on school bus drivers, gasoline, building heating and cooling, custodians, and so on, leading to savings measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That’s big news when schools everywhere are facing budget shortages far greater than they are used to.
But what is the cost of such savings in terms of student success? No one really knows, actually. While some adults may be able to switch to a week consisting of four ten-hour days, kids tend to have less stamina and shorter attention spans. “There’s no way a switch like that wouldn’t negatively affect teaching and learning,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators.
There’s another issue that administrators often overlook — the practical aspects that families face when school districts make changes like this. For the many families where both parents work a five-days-a-week job, childcare for the lost school day becomes a problem — and an added expense. In fact, it could be seen as simply shifting the cost from the school to the parents to the detriment of the kids’ education.
And there’s the problem. The government exists to serve the needs of its citizens; it should be adjusting its services to meet the needs of the public, rather than forcing the public to meet its budget-inspired schedule. Monte Thompson, superintendent of Gore Public Schools in Oklahoma, where schools are trying out the four-day school week for the first time, understands the problem. “I get why schools have moved toward this,” said Thompson, “but I don’t think finances justify hurting the kids educationally.” I think he’s exactly right.