Is a 4-day school week a good idea?

Korin Miller
Writer
Photo: Getty Images

A Colorado school district plans to move to a four-day school week, starting in August, because of funding issues.

Brighton-based School District 27J announced the planned change in mid-March and currently offers an online guide for parents about the switch. Among other things, the guide says that a four-day week will create a “clean, consistent, and concise schedule,” “give teachers and staff time to better prepare for classes and develop professionally,” and allows for the “reallocation” of funds.

With the change, elementary school students will start their days at 7:50 a.m. and wrap up at 3:30 p.m., while middle school and high school students will start at 8:30 a.m. and be finished at 4:32 p.m. They will go to school Tuesdays through Fridays.

“We’re confident it’s going to attract teachers and keep them,” District 27J Superintendent Chris Fiedler told KUSA-TV in Denver. “I haven’t had teachers say that this is a horrible idea.”

Fielder says in the parent guide that he realizes the change is “significant” for students, parents, and the community. “But our district can no longer be expected to do more with less financial resources,” he said.

The new schedule was announced after the district failed six times to get more money through bond elections. By eliminating Mondays from the school week, Fielder says the district hopes to save about $1 million through not running school buses on those days and not having to hire substitute teachers on Mondays, as well as savings on utility costs.

While budget was repeatedly mentioned in the reasoning for the move, Tracy Rudnick, public information officer for School District 27J, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that it’s really about attracting talented and qualified teachers so that students can have a better education. “We are one of the lowest-funded school districts in the state of Colorado, so our teachers are paid very low wages compared to neighboring districts where they can make up to $10,000 a year more,” she says. “If we cannot pay them like professionals, we’re going to treat them like professionals.”

Rudnick says that reaction from parents has been “mixed.” Some love the fact that they’re going to have another day with their children at home, while others are concerned about childcare on Mondays, especially if they have younger students. That’s why Rudnick says the district is offering childcare on Mondays for $30 a day. “We’ve already had over 700 families express interest in that,” she says.

The move seems a little unusual, but there is some precedence for this, John Conrath, PhD, a senior lecturer in Ohio State University’s Department of Educational Studies, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “There have been attempts to do this sort of thing in the past, and it’s generally almost always for budgetary reasons,” he says.

Clearly, this can help the district save some money. But the impact on other areas is harder to predict. “Determining the effects on students, staff, and parents … that gets to be much more complex,” Conrath says. And, he adds, in almost every case, the impact is different from school to school.

Here’s what is known, though: These kinds of changes seem to be easier on older students than on their younger counterparts. “Older students seem to adapt more readily, are more flexible, and have parents who seem to be more flexible in making these changes,” Conrath says. “With younger students, it always becomes problematic.”

As for whether it’s actually possible to jam five days of education into four, Conrath says “anything is possible.”

Though trends in education have come and gone, Conrath points out that things pretty much always go back to normal. “There really has not been a major movement in education in the last 60 years that affects the amount of time or the scheduling of time with students that has been able to be sustained,” he says “Almost universally, those efforts have reverted back to the traditional five hours day, five days a week.”

Worth noting: Several Colorado school districts are currently operating on a four-day week. Even if the School District 27J budget improves, Rudnick says there are no plans to revert to a five-day week. As for now, funding is still one of the main concerns. “We still need and would like additional funding,” she says. “It’s very important.”

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