Monday, March 15, 2010

This Teacher on Spring Break Says "No" to the Four-Day School Week

I read something over the weekend that appears to be such a bad idea that I can't believe someone actually proposed it: School districts are trying to save money by going to a four-day school week:
A small but growing number of school districts across the country are moving to a four-day week, in a shift they hope will help close gaping budget holes and stave off teacher layoffs, but that critics fear could hurt students' education.

State legislators and local school boards are giving administrators greater flexibility to set their academic calendars, making the four-day slate possible. But education experts say little research exists to show the impact of shortened weeks on learning. The missed hours are typically made up by lengthening remaining school days.

Of the nearly 15,000-plus districts nationwide, more than 100 in at least 17 states currently use the four-day system, according to data culled from the Education Commission of the States. Dozens of other districts are contemplating making the change in the next year—a shift that is apt to create new challenges for working parents as well as thousands of school employees.
And that's the real problem with the idea. What are all these working parents supposed to do? If the kids are too young to leave home alone, how will they manage to set up one-day child care? And if the older kids were home along, wouldn't crime, violence and other such mischief increase?

And it's not just the students and parents who would be affected. How about the teachers? Some of them would be hard-pressed to do things like graduate courses and other enrichment work if the day were nearly an hour and a half longer. (And yes, I have a personal dog in this hunt; I teach lessons in public schools in the morning and teach college in the later afternoon and evening; if my public schools went to a four-day week, I'm not sure that I could make enough money to live on with only four partial days of lessons; I'd have to do a slew of house calls on Fridays. And switching more college teaching to Fridays wouldn't be the answer either, as lots of my students have Fridays off anyway, and those days are used to work.)

But wait...there's more! We haven't even talked about the educational implications yet. Aren't our students underachieving when they're compared with those in other countries? And wouldn't that achievement gap grow even larger if students were in school one less day every week? A few years ago, when year-round school was all the rage in some circles, proponents noted that the longer time off made students more likely to forget what they'd learned; imagine having a little chunk of that "vacation" every week!

Comments at this Wall Street Journal blog post, a companion to the first linked story above, are all over the map; some people are shouting that "schools are not babysitters," but others note that the current setup of schools--which provides for both learning and a safe environment away from home while the parents are at work--has been in place for so long that it's sort of an unwritten compact between the schools and the community, and changing this is somewhat like pulling the rug out from many parents. I also like the analogy made by commenter "AZ Anon," who says, "Another point is the issue of less repetition. When you want to learn a musical instrument, its not the same to pratice 3 hours once a week, vs. 30 min a day for 6 days. Over time we learn more vs. trying to cram in all the knowledge over fewer hours." Well said. And another commenter notes that, if this has to happen, put the off-day on Monday instead of Friday, and suddenly all the Monday holidays can be observed on days when students wouldn't be in school anyway. If the (IMHO) horrible idea of four-day weeks ever got implemented, that would probably be the best way to go.

But there is a solution to this which hasn't been discussed very much: It's time to cut the fat at the administration building. I'm a big fan of requiring administrators to teach one class every day, but there are probably some positions that just need to be cut outright. "Diversity" officers? "Green" specialists? The Deputy Associate Vice Superintendent for Curriculum Development in the Northwest Quadrant? You could get rid of these jobs and many others like them and nobody would miss them, and doing so is the first thing that needs to be considered whenever a district faces a budget crunch.

Would a four-day school week affect you personally in any way, and would you be in favor of such a thing? Chime in by hitting the comment button.

No comments: