A new report issued by the Center for American Progress suggests that aligning the school day to parents’ 9-to-5 work schedules is a practical way to meet the changing needs of the modern American family while boosting workforce productivity. And parents everywhere responded with no kidding! and hallelujah!
While the nonpartisan group’s analysis might come as no surprise to parents, the group’s report, Workin’ 9 to 5: How School Schedules Make Life Harder for Working Parents, does offer some helpful background information and suggestions for moving forward.
According to the report, when the public school day first took hold, millions of children as young as 10 worked and most mothers stayed home. These days, however, child labor is outlawed for the most part and 75 percent of women with school-age children work. Simply put, family life has changed, but the school day has not.
Specifically, authors of the report found that schools are closed more than two workweeks longer than the average private sector employee has off in vacation days and holidays, which can cost families on average $6,600 a year (or 9 percent of the average family’s income). Not only do most schools close a full two hours before the end of the typical workday, but many key school events — like parent-teacher conferences — are scheduled during the day, making it difficult for parents to attend.
What’s more, the misaligned school day affects certain demographics more than others. According to the report, although less than half of elementary schools offer before- and after-school care, that number dips to less than one-third for low-income schools — and when it is offered, it’s often cost prohibitive.
Most of this information is nothing new to parents. We already know firsthand just how disruptive and challenging it can be to coordinate the conflicting schedules of the typical school day and work day. In fact, most parents are probably nodding their heads in agreement and muttering something along the lines of no kidding right about now. We are living these challenges every day and don’t need a report to tell us this. But what might be surprising, not just for parents, but for employers as well, is that this misalignment of schedules costs the American economy a staggering $55 billion each year in lost productivity.
So what can we do about this problem? The answer obviously isn’t as simple as extending the school day and reducing the number of days off. Teachers have families too, after all. But the report offers several suggestions for constituencies across the board, from the federal government to school administrators, on ways we can work to reduce these challenges. For instance, the report suggests that the federal government promote the 9-to-5 school day and compensate teachers for the extra hours worked. School districts can offer family-centered schools and work with the community to create before- and after-school programs. School administrators can negotiate more efficient school bus schedules and follow the lead of major employers on how to deal with weather-related cancellations and other emergencies.
These suggestions are helpful, of course, but perhaps the real value of the report doesn’t lie in the information it provides, but its acknowledgement that raising a family is hard but meaningful work, and we all play a role in the building up and tending to families’ needs. None of us lives in a vacuum and problems aren’t one-dimensional; rather we live in communities with interplay between every facet of our lives. And because of that the solutions won’t be one-sided, simple, or smooth. Instead, it will take a top-to-bottom, all-hands-on-deck, two-steps-forward-one-step-back effort to reexamine the ways we live and work and raise children.
After all, as they say, it does indeed take a village. Not just to raise a child, but to live a life as well.