While there is public outcry at compacting education to save money, a four-day school week reaps educational as well as monetary benefits by raising test scores and revenue.
Like the block schedule that about 30 high schools in California have adopted, in which students have fewer, but longer (the day is a little under two hours longer), classes per day, a shortened school week would invest more time in actual instruction because of fewer passing periods and less time devoted to getting situated in a class. A 2009 report by the Center for Education Policy at the University of Southern Maine on all four-day schools finds that the four-day school week has positive — or, at worst, neutral — effect on academics. This can be explained by classes getting into more depth due to longer periods and more time for homework and extra-curricular activities on the weekend. For example, a school district in Webster County, Ky., moved from 111th to 53rd in the state for standardized-test performance five years after switching to the four-day system.
Additionally, students who participated in the report claimed to have more positive attitudes about school — a sentiment reflected in lower dropout rates, higher rates of classroom participation and increased involvement in extracurricular activities.
And the monetary and practical benefits are undeniable. According to the report, schools saved 2 to 9 percent of their annual costs. Transportation and utility costs would be reduced with buses, cafeterias and buildings experiencing less use.
The four-day week has thus far been limited to small, rural school districts, and in California, only 10 school districts — all with less than 500 students — currently follow this system. Thus, a four-day week may not be as feasible for larger schools. But the concept is nothing new. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, the four-day school week has existed since the 1970s, with examples in Montana, Georgia, Missouri and Washington. Over 120 schools districts across the U.S. are using it and, seeing these irrefutable benefits, there should be more to come.
— Hilary Lee
Shouldn’t Sacrifice Education for Financial Savings
For students in over 100 school districts across the country, three-day weekends are nothing out of the ordinary. Public schools in 17 states have adopted four-day school weeks in an attempt to save money and resources. Though this trend is becoming more widespread, this move is motivated only by a desire to save money. This is bad news for schools because education must be top priority, not additional funding.
Cutting the school week must be balanced by increasing the number of hours students spend in school every day, which will make students restless and less likely to retain information. Dr. David J. Bateson of the University of British Columbia studied 30,000 10th-grade students and found that learning is likely to be less effective in longer class periods, especially in courses such as math and science. Beginning teacher evaluation studies show that children are significantly more productive when taught over short periods of time instead of in long blocks. Furthermore, the attention span of the average full-grown adult is only around 20 minutes, according to researchers at the University of Indiana, and children are even more restless. Increasing the amount of time kids will have to sit at a desk will only make them less focused on their studies.
In addition, disciplines like foreign languages require daily classroom interaction that can’t be substituted with longer lessons. In many cases, the quality of learning is more dependent on long-term consistency and review than on the number of hours of studying per day. According to Bell Communications research, people lose 10-9 bits of memory each second, and the longer students are out of school, the more they forget.
These educational downfalls are not worth the meager 3 to 8 percent of operating budgets (according to the University of Southern Maine) that schools will save on utility, transportation and lunch costs. There are other ways to make money without sacrificing education. Schools in the Lake Washington district have saved more than $550,000 in two years by reducing waste and power usage.
Schools may want to pursue desperate measures to save money, but they must put their students’ education first and think of other ways to cash in.
— Revathy Sampth-Kumar