Shortfalls in yearly school budgets are encouraging many school districts to consider shortening the school week by one day. This possibility is especially popular in rural school districts that provide transportation to students living in distant, sparsely-populated locations. Before adopting this major change to the school calendar, districts must weigh the benefits and detriments that may affect all stakeholders within the district boundaries once the alteration has been made.
Student performance is, of course, one of the greatest concerns facing the school districts. When districts shorten the length of the school week, they extend the number of hours students attend class each day. This means there can be more time spent on labs, art projects, and other extended activities. While the time available for learning each day is more plentiful, do the learning experiences result in academic growth? Research examining how student learning is affected by the four-day school week is both limited and mixed. One such study investigated data resulting from the elementary reading test of the Colorado Student Assessment Program. Using data generated from 2001 to 2010, researchers found that the 15 rural districts operating four days a week had a larger percentage of students scoring at levels rated proficient or above than those students who attended classes five days a week within similar districts. While this may be noteworthy, other studies found that although there was an initial increase in performance, those gains were not sustained. Attendance, on the other hand, may improve when a four-day week is adopted.
Of those districts operating four days a week, many have reported an absenteeism decrease. Some teachers have noticed that their students seem more rested with the extra day off, even though the four days that students do attend are longer days. The students, say some teachers and parents, are more motivated to go to school fewer days a week. Along with the desire to be there, having no class on Mondays or Fridays allows more flexibility to schedule doctor or dentist appointments.
Absenteeism is improved in another way, too, especially when Friday is the extra day off class. Athletic events affect classes in a way that most people do not realize. Since teams travel from school to school for competitions, they occasionally require students to be released from their classes early so that they reach their destination at the designated time. When this occurs, each team member misses out on the remaining time in class. The student's attendance record may show this as an exempt absence, but the student still misses out on instruction and academic activities. These anticipated absences require teachers to preplan and differentiate instruction. This can be quite burdensome at times, especially when notifications about the absences are given with little notice. On the four-day school week schedule, athletic events can still occur on the weekday off. Doing so does not affect class time. Transportation, however, must be secured by each student.
Many teachers enjoy the benefits brought about by an extra weekday off from teaching classes. The time is used in a variety of ways. While some treat it as an extended weekend, there are districts that use the day for in-service opportunities, collaboration, instructional preparation, and evaluation. Some districts believe that this appeals to teachers, motivating them to stay within the district and even attract new teachers as well. As one can see, school buildings are usually used during the day without students. This means those buildings are using energy, and energy costs are not necessarily where districts are saving money.
When students are scheduled one less day per week, support professionals are also shorted a working day. A substantial portion of the budget savings comes from the wages and expenses required to pay for transportation and food and custodial services. Along with those employed in these areas, many aides and paraprofessionals miss out on a day of pay, too. Depending on one's situation, working four days a week may not be enough.
Like support professionals, parents can feel the financial crunch too. If they work five days a week, their children may need supervision during that extra day off. In some communities, parents have to spend extra money for childcare. In others, the community provides supervision at clubs, day camps, and enrichment programs.
When state and federal funding continuously fail to meet the needs of a school district, tough decisions must be made. Closing a school is usually a district's last resort to saving money, but it is an option that has been used. If eliminating a day of instruction is what is needed for the budget to balance, it may be worth it for all the district's stakeholders. With it comes a great deal of change, but so does the alternative.