As much as we want to believe that the United States is the greatest nation in the world (and in many ways, I believe it is), the truth is that many American public schools are plagued with lack of funding, poor teacher retention, and low graduation rates. As a former teacher myself, I can attest to the never-ending conversations about how schools can improve. More tests? Fewer tests? Longer school day? Shorter school day? Year-round schooling? Open campus? Individualized curriculums? Better technology?
Well, one district in the Denver area hopes a big change this September will help their schools — and it’s gotten parents and educators everywhere talking.
In its efforts to hire and retain more highly-qualified teachers, 27J school district of Adams County in Colorado will open the 2018-2019 school year with a 4-day-a-week school schedule. Classes will be in session Tuesday through Friday this fall, which means weekends are three days long; not two. And it means that the school days are about an hour longer.
“Our teachers are the lowest paid in the area,” the school district’s public information officer Tracy Rudnick told Buzfeed News. Rudnick then supported this unfortunate fact by stating that teachers who move to Boulder-area schools can make $10,000 more.
This new schedule, her district hopes, “can help retain highly qualified teachers, giving them more time in the day for development and to plan and prepare,” Rudnick shared with Buzzfeed. “We realize teachers are doing this on their own personal time.”
Because in the end, a school is only as good as its teachers — teachers who are highly qualified and who have the motivation and support from their principals, school board, and fellow colleagues. Knowing that they cannot compete with districts like Boulder in salary, this was something they could do to entice good teachers to stay in 27J.
The reaction from parents so far has been a “mixed bag”, according to Buzzfeed. And you need only poke through Twitter or Facebook to see what parents are saying about it to get that vibe, too.
Obviously, for working parents, childcare is an issue. Come August, they will need to find somewhere to put their kids every Monday. The school is offering childcare for $30/day, but an extra $120-$150 monthly expense is just too much for some parents. For families with multiple children, that can add up to a hefty amount. Many angry parents have said that this is just another way for kids and teachers to be be lazy and have another day to do nothing, and they are stuck paying for it out of pocket. Hopefully the childcare cost doesn’t drive too many families to move away, as that would hurt the district’s overall goal of improvement.
However, others are supporting the schedule change, believing that kids don’t really need to be in school for five straight days and that this plan is more inline with 21st century teaching styles. Plus, with all of the pressures of standardized testing, maybe a longer weekend will help students recharge. Schools can also use Mondays as a day for kids to do independent work at home (assuming they do it of course!).
As a former teacher and now stay-at-home mom, I wouldn’t mind a 4-day week, but I see where it could be frustrating from the childcare perspective. My kids have a half day every third Thursday of the month for teacher work time, plus various teacher work days sprinkled throughout the school year. I can remember how valuable that planning and grading time was, so I am fully supportive of my district providing that to my kids’ teachers.
As for my kids? I think they’d do well with a 4-day week, despite the extra hour at school Tuesday through Friday. There are definitely weeks that they’ve been overtired and barely able to catch up on rest by Sunday night. We often spend our teacher work days or snow days or spring and summer breaks doing a variety of things. We might sleep in a bit and watch some TV, but we also usually end up reading, playing board games, playing outside, or going to the library. My kids like to write and act out plays, play on the computer, and do creative arts and crafts. If we were tasked with independent work on Mondays, we’d be okay with that.
With more and more schools switching to year-round schooling, maybe this too will become a trend. It will be interesting to revisit 27J school district in a few years and see what the results are. If it doesn’t end up helping, at least they can say they did something to try to retain good teachers, which is what their students need more than anything.