Sweetwater County School District’s No. 1’s four-day school week proposal won’t produce significant cost savings, it will increase the financial burden on local families, and there’s scarce research to justify its effectiveness.
If you’re having a sense of déjà vu, you’re not alone. The headline for the editorial in the Feb. 19, 2017, edition of the Rocket-Miner stated “4-day school week is not the answer.” More than two years later, the school district still hasn’t settled our concerns. As the calendar is being nailed down for the 2019-20 and 2020-2021 school years, too many questions remain unanswered.
We don’t think there’s enough time to prepare for such a seismic change. Even if mothers and fathers support the shortened week, we question how many have thought about the personal sacrifices they’ll have to make in about five months.
Access to child care is already limited in Sweetwater County, and the increased demand that will come with a three-day weekend will raise the cost and decrease accessibility. Many after-school programs have waiting lists, and some parents lack neighbors or family members who can take up slack.
The traditional five-day school week already taxes the resources of low-income households. Multiple schools have programs where children take home food on Fridays to keep them from going hungry over the weekend. The families that are already stretched are the ones who will be most impacted by this schedule change. They will have to reduce their hours at work, divert more money for babysitters, find volunteer caregivers, or leave their children unattended.
The community will bear part of this burden. There are few studies on alternative school schedules, but an article published in the June 2018 edition of the Economics of Education Review found a short-term increase in crime. Colorado communities where students attended four days of school a week saw a 20 percent increase in juvenile offenses, especially in property crime. When more reports come in, we wonder if they will document similar increases in drug use, alcohol consumption and pregnancies when students have more free time and less supervision.
We understand that most polled students and faculty support the change, but we also remember that popularity doesn’t necessarily equal productivity. While we want kids to be happy, we also want what’s best for them. That’s why you sometime apply the adult veto. Just because all the kids in the backseat voted for McDonald’s, it doesn’t mean you’re required to get them Happy Meals.
Time changes come with concerns. Extended hours, which are required to cram five days of classes into four, puts more weight on students. The effect will be magnified on younger pupils and those who have extracurricular activities.
Looking further ahead, when it’s time to enter the workforce, a generation accustomed to extended weekends will face extra hardships. Today a five-day work week is the minimum, and jobs often demand more. If a graduate with a four-day schedule competes against an applicant from a more traditional school, and everything else was equal when it came to grades and education, we’d give the advantage to the one used to working more days a week.
The district tells us that part of the rationale for the revised schedule is to create more effective teachers, but we think there are better ways to do that than an untested schedule. Imagine if more money was budgeted for classroom supplies and support staff like paraprofessionals and substitute teachers. Instructors would benefit from more clerical duties being shifted to administrative staff, so teachers can spend more time teaching. These are proven strategies to improve morale, free up more time for one-on-one interaction, and increase learning.
We’re still waiting on answers to important questions. How will the extended school days be structured to keep kids engaged? With fewer free hours, how will students balance activities and homework? Will food and child care assistance be provided for needy families? What can be done to keep youth productive and out of trouble when school isn’t in session? Will students with special needs require more resources to adjust? Will the changes actually lead to higher grades?
We don’t know the answer to these questions, and neither does the school district. It’s irresponsible to make a decision with insufficient information and planning. If the district wants to pursue this idea, it should spend the next two years doing more research. It should interview school officials who employed this system and ensure the community can weather the change.
Long days are ahead of us. Regardless of how many days kids spend in school every week, we have to meet the daily challenges to feed student bodies and minds, engage with multiple learning styles, and prepare younger generations for the future.
Considering the need to improve local scores and graduation rates, we must meet a high burden of proof before making a monumental change. We don’t need to take a risk that could make things worse. If the system proves to be faulty, students won’t get those years or lost opportunities back.
We all want what’s best for our kids, and we should make informed decisions. While we gather additional data, let’s keep students in the classrooms five days a week.