If everybody works for the weekend, will everybody work harder for a longer weekend? I really don’t know, but I do know a new trend in education trend has been quietly growing. In 2010 about 120 school districts were on a four day school week. The following year 300 school districts were operating on a four day week.
The idea is to add about an hour and a half to the school day Monday through Thursdays with schools closed on Fridays to help reduce costs related to transportation, staffing, energy, and even serving school lunches. But is the monetary savings worth the potential cost in student learning?
According to the school districts participating in the four-day school week, there seems to be no loss, or gain, in student achievement. They claim students are more focused with fewer breaks in the school day and have the opportunity for more in-depth learning due to fewer disruptions. Students have to opportunity to explore independent learning in areas of interest on their day off, and, with no school on Fridays, some high school students are using the time to take internships In addition, the longer school day offsets the reduced number of days and in some cases has increased staff and student attendance.
In my opinion, going to a four-day school week is nothing more than a last-ditch, desperate effort to save cash. The possible benefits to student learning have no basis in fact that I could locate and the benefits stated by the school districts that instituted the plan sound a just a little fishy.
Kids have enough trouble focusing for 50-minute intervals, let alone 65-minute periods. I don’t know of a single student who is disappointed that the period is over, no matter how interesting the lesson, upon hearing the bell ring. Plus, the impact on younger students who fatigue more easily and may need child care on the fifth day doesn’t seem like a good plan for the child or the parents. Although some teenagers may use the time to explore personal interests or take internships, I wonder how many more would spend the extra time playing video games and watching reruns of "How I Met Your Mother."
If the school day is lengthened, when would there be time for sports or extra-curricular activities? Kids don’t have enough hours in the day as it is. If cross country practice or jazz band rehearsals start two hours later, when is there time to do homework? There isn’t. Not offering extra-curricular activities is another way schools are cutting costs as well so fitting them in would probably not be an issue. A longer school day also limits the time teens have for part-time jobs.
No matter how the school district spins it, shortening the school week is a bad idea. It’s the first step toward scrapping the idea of school altogether and installing robots in homes to teach Asimov-style, which would really save on transportation, teacher salary, and school lunch costs.
Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, there is little danger of this happening since the condensed schedules do not allow time to teach the writings of Isaac Asimov, or anyone else, although I’m pretty sure the idea has come up in more than one school board meeting. But students will still have to opportunity to explore classic literature on their own, which has about as much chance of happening as having robots in everyone’s homes to replace school.
About this column: Susan Schaefer,M.A.T., M.ED. director and founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an academic coach, student advocate, and certified teacher.
We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1