A new trend in rural school districts is to move away from the traditional five-days-a-week school schedule and transition into four-day weeks.
Essentially, students go to school longer each day, but ultimately end up with a three-day weekend by having Friday off. This idea is often pitched as a cost-savings for the school, while also allowing teachers more time to collaborate and students more time for college prep courses or extracurricular activities.
According to the National Education Association, having four days rather than five could also allow students to be more rested and better engaged in class, while potentially decreasing absences. Stay-at-home parents are usually attracted to the prospect of having a weekday off so they can take their children to various appointments or have more family time.
While the idea of a four-day school week sounds beneficial to some, there are many families that suffer because of this change — particularly children with working parents who will have to scramble to afford additional daycare or push families into latchkey-kid situations before they are entirely comfortable. And it also doesn’t take into account families who rely on school lunch subsidies to feed their children during the week. Many families rely on these programs for both breakfast and lunch.
According to Paul Hill who co-wrote a study on the four-day school week, educational outcomes from the four-day switch have proved inconclusive, and the cost-cutting hypothesis has largely been disproven.
Hill told the Atlantic that in most cases, schools wouldn’t save money on teachers’ salaries because their contracts are set. They can save a little money on bus routes, and perhaps overhead costs and hourly wage employees, but when you consider that the school is actually open longer hours during the week, and that schools often have to feed students an additional meal because of the longer class hours, four-day school weeks aren’t really saving money at all.
He also mentioned that there are two major populations of concern that he found during his study of the four-day school week. The first was a concern for younger children who might not be able to handle longer days in school without damaging their ability to concentrate and retain information. The second being students of low-income families or two-earner families where feeding and caring for children on the fifth day might create a hardship.
I think anyone in a dual-earner situation would feel a serious pinch in their stomach at the thought of a four-day school week. In fact, most dual-earning parents get anxious at the thought of a snow day. Right now, I’m lucky in the fact that my wife works at our children’s school, and when it’s closed, she’s home. But I grew up in a very different situation.
After my father left, he didn’t pay child support. My mother was single and working two jobs. I went to an elementary school with a year-round schedule, which meant that we ended up with these odd three-week vacations during the school year rather than a summer break. Once my mom started working, I was simply left home alone during these breaks. This was not a choice my mother wanted to make, but was forced to make. This was in the late ’80s.
Now, in 2017, she probably would have been arrested for neglect because she was financially forced to leave her young son home alone. As I researched for this story, all I could think about were families in very similar situations like the one I grew up in, scrambling to figure out how to care for their children while still keeping a roof over their head.
Ultimately, four-day program benefits are adult-centric rather than child-centric. There seems to be little benefit to children’s education as a whole. Sure there are the perks I mentioned previously, but a four-day school week puts a real strain on poor, working families. It seems to benefit the adults who can afford to accommodate the schedule the most. I think that really is the difficulty in making a choice like this for an entire school. It can positively impact some families, but negatively impact others.
Hill ended his interview with the Atlantic by saying, “This is something that’s happening, nobody’s really evaluating it, nobody’s asking what should be the minimum required if somebody’s going to do it. The states are just letting it happen, and it’s unfortunately going to be very hard to reverse because it’s one of those adult-benefit things that you can’t roll back.”
This quote really sums up the issues with the four-day week. It sounds good to those who can benefit, so the decision is made without taking into account those that might struggle because of the change.