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Pros and cons of 4-day school week discussed

by Larry S. Chowning

St. Clare Walker Middle School principal James Lane presented a committee report to the Middlesex County School Board on Jan. 13, outlining the advantages and disadvantages of the school system implementing a four-day school week.

“Due to potential cuts in education funding, many school districts across the nation are considering alternative schedules in order to reduce costs,” said Lane.

The four-day school week is being implemented in several states, notably Kentucky and Colorado, he said. A four-day system is legally allowed as long as the required minimum number of instructional minutes are met, as opposed to the minimum day requirement.

The advantages to a four-day school week are that student dropout rates decline; student disciplinary referrals decrease; student achievement is generally not affected either positively or negatively; student and teacher attendance improves; and students and teachers benefit from less interrupted class time as a result of longer class periods and fewer transitions at all grade levels. All of this increases the efficiency of instruction, said Lane.

Other advantages are a significant savings on items such as utility and fuel bills, substitute teacher pay, school bus driver and custodial pay, and building repairs.

Also under the four-day system, school days missed due to inclement weather can be made up on what would have been the fifth school day—instead of at the end of the school year.

The main disadvantages are that the system creates child care issues on the one weekday that schools are closed, and the concern as to how young students will respond to longer school days that would be necessary under the plan.

Other disadvantages are that teachers feel that “at-risk” and “special needs” students may have retention difficulties with an extra day off each week. 

Some school officials feel the four-day week may appear to be inconsistent with the new emphasis on more instructional time in school.

Also, the four-day week will take more of a local community commitment than other schedule options, as it can affect daily community routines as well as the routines of children.

Athletic teams will have difficulty in scheduling games against opponents that are on a five-day schedule. Teachers may be less likely to volunteer to host after-school activities due to the longer school day.

Lane said the four-day school week would save the school system about 3% of the total school budget.

“Student achievement is the most important thing that should be considered,” said Lane. “There is no empirical research that has been found to show an increase or decrease in achievement with this schedule.”

The committee recommended:

  • Form/continue a committee to discuss details about a specific four-day school week plan.
  • Survey teachers, employees, parents and students about their thoughts on the four-day schedule.
  • Contact community organizations to receive firm numbers about the child-care costs that parents may incur.
  • Send a representative to a school system currently operating a four-day school week to gather feedback.
  • Plot the schedule for a short period, and ask the community for input before making a final decision.

School board member Jim Goforth said he was not in favor of anything that reduces salaries for bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers or other school employees.

Lane said, however, that the only way to get the 3% budget savings is to reduce salaries and benefits of support employees.

Goforth noted most school workers are on salary and not paid by the hour.

posted 01.22.2009

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