Four-day week poses unknowns

Editor:

The four-day school week would hurt Sweet Home students and the community if adopted by the local School District.

The four-day week is still experimental, and although a minority of school districts have adopted the model (about a hundred in the nation), there is still very little information about its long-term impact on student learning to justify the adoption of such a drastic measure.

Proponents of the four-day week cite the fact that there have been no major studies showing negative academic impacts, but this is really because there simply aren’t any long-term studies that fully explore the ramifications on students academically and socially.

Common sense is one thing, however, that the community and school board members can bring to the table. Charter schools and public schools have virtually identical test scores nationwide, however some Charter schools have exceptionally higher scores. These charter schools are mostly the ones that have employed such draconian measures as Saturday school and extended school days. In other words, they have found success in lengthening the days students spend in school – not shortening them.

One thing is for sure, high school students today are entering the most difficult job market the nation has encountered since the early 1980s and perhaps even the 1930s during the Great Depression. One thing all economists and educational experts agree on is that students need skills and training like they never have before.

Most programs require a high school diploma and proficiency in reading, writing and math. Proposing a shorter school week with more concentrated time in the classroom runs in direct opposition to all the knowledge we have about student learning. Packing in more learning in one day has been proven ineffective in many studies, mainly because students can reach a threshold for how much they can absorb in one day.

Teachers understand this from observation of student behavior and can testify to a marked change in student attention and focus toward the end of the day. This is especially true when there is a reduction in physical activity in connection with diets high in caffeine and sugar. We would be creating a higher-stakes educational atmosphere where more has to be absorbed in one day, even when student minds and bodies are not conditioned or prepared to best receive and process the information they’re receiving.

There are several other concerns as well. As a high school teacher, I can’t help but worry about many of our students who desperately need structure and oversight having more time on their hands to get into trouble with alcohol, drugs, and other illegal activities. The high school already receives complaints from local businesses and churches about students involved in petty crime during lunch break. Unsupervised kids invariably result in higher rates of costly mischief. This has to be projected into the presumed “savings.”

Parents are heavily stressed to make ends meet and many work over 60 hours a week. They can’t simply take eight more hours a week to be home or pay additional costs for child care. In this sense, parents and community members will be absorbing the cost of this “savings.” Releasing students on Friday would add undue stress on parents and community organizations like the Boys and Girls Club. Many kids would simply be left to wander the streets.

Schools have provided support to the community by offering full school days and extra-curricular activities that keep students focused, motivated and out of trouble. The four-day school week reduces the influence the school has to positively impact kids.

Most students also rely on free lunch programs and many receive food aid over the weekend from such organizations as Kids Food Pack. Will this continue during the four-day week? Students are left with less support both academic and socially which the majority of our kids rely on in Sweet Home where the majority of students are on free and reduced lunch.

For parents and families with economic resources, many might conclude that it is more cost-effective to pull their students out of the public school system and place them in private schools. Quality child care is expensive even if just utilized once a week. Many might conclude it to be simpler to pull their students out.

A new state law was passed this year that also allows students to seek public education in different districts if they choose. Unlike many of the rural districts that have adopted the four-day week, Sweet Home kids have many other options that might pull them out of the district if such a measure were adopted.

Many parents will opt to send their students to other school districts that offer a full week of school, such as Lebanon or elsewhere, rather than have to contend with finding child care once a week. This would result in further losses in funding to the schools and a reduction in the supposed “savings.” We would also lose many top kids academically, and this would impact our school environment in a negative fashion.

The classified staff serve the district in an important and vital function in our school. How will we reward them? By reducing their hours by one-fifth? These are not high-paying jobs and leaving our staff, many who have served the community for years, destitute or unemployed does not seem helpful to our community or to the students. One employee, a teacher’s aid, did the math with the proposed hours and figured she would make around $12,000 a year.

This is not a living wage and would not provide support to staff that do some of our most important work and service for kids.

The biggest kicker is, of course, how little the school district would actually save by implementing this drastic schedule change. Other schools that have pioneered the four-day school week in Utah, for example, projected savings around 10 percent of their budget but then in reality only ended up saving around 2 to 3 percent.

Staff continued to meet on Fridays to get work done that they couldn’t complete in such a short period of time during the school week. Extracurricular activities also continued to meet, resulting in a much smaller savings on electricity and other costs than expected. For such a small overall savings, it seems that there are many other areas that could be cut that would not have such a negative impact on our students and our community.

Although the district presumes they will save hundreds of thousands of dollars, those costs will not simply disappear. They will simply be absorbed by parents, business and community organizations, which will have to fill in the gaps with the few resources they have. It is also unlikely the school would even see these savings after students drop out and true energy costs are tallied.

I urge concerned parents and community members to look critically at the issues and consider other ways to meet our budget needs.

What has worked in Glide or Central Linn may not work in Sweet Home, and the community should have ample time to fully weigh and consider options before decisions are implemented. Real people are affected by these decisions and we may be harming our kids’ chances at a brighter future.

Deborah Handman

Teacher

Sweet Home High School

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