The Four-Day School Week: Not a Bandwagon We Should Jump On

Public schools have long been a backbone to our nation. As a cornerstone for local communities, public schools have helped prepare a skilled workforce essential for manufacturing; they’ve also produced doctors, lawyers, academics, and others essential to a healthy and thriving society.

The first public school of record was the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. Still in existence today, it is currently ranked the #1 high school in Massachusetts and #48 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

While we have an educational system that has led the world in many arenas, our public schools often face stiff challenges: Their budgets are stretched too thin while costs continue to rise. Expectations and accountability continue to remain front and center in an ever-changing political climate. There aren’t enough highly-qualified teachers, particularly in shortage areas such as math, science, special education, and English language learning. As a result, some school districts have been forced to find ways to serve students and yet remain fiscally solvent. Enter the four-day school week.

Which Schools Use a Shortened Week the Most?

Approximately 560 school districts in 25 states have moved to a four-day school week. Most of the schools are small and are located in rural areas. Within the past few years some larger urban districts have begun experimenting with a shorter school week, but those numbers are small compared to rural counterparts. In five states (Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico) at least 20% of schools within each of those five states have adopted a shortened school week model.

However, if we look at the actual number of school districts, then the state leaders for four-day weeks are Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. Colorado has the largest proportion of public-school districts with one or more schools on a four-day week at 98. Missouri currently has 28 schools on a four-day schedule.

How is a Four-Day School Week Implemented? 

The most common model is to adhere to a Monday through Thursday schedule. Most states require a minimum number of days and instructional contact hours in each school year; schools that have adopted a four-day week simply reconfigure their schedules to fit the required contact hours into a shorter time span. This can make for a very long school day, particularly for students who have a long bus ride to and from home. In some instances, students have a 90-minute bus ride each morning and again each evening.

How Big are the Savings to School Districts?

According to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), national finance data concludes that the actual savings for districts that moved to a four-day week were between 0.4% and 2.5%. Depending on the size of the district, savings on bus transportation, building utilities, and custodial services could be significant enough for superintendents to seriously consider this model, particularly in states that have cut funding for P-12 schools. However, no savings are noted for staff salaries and benefits, given that staff must still work the same number of hours per school year.

What’s the Impact on Teacher Recruitment & Retention?

Based on a perception study conducted by Turner, Finch, & Ximena, school staff tend to like the convenience of a shortened work week despite a longer work day. This could potentially serve as a drawing card to attract applicants particularly in high-demand areas such as math, science, special education, and English Language Learners. However, very little formal research has been conducted on four-day school weeks, so the long-term impact on teacher supply and demand remains to be seen.

But What About Impact on Students?

Health & Safety: While some stay-at-home parents/guardians indicate they like having one day per week to schedule doctor appointments and run errands, those who work outside the home often feel frustrated by having to find childcare for one full day per week, plus the cost of paying for such care. In many instances when proper adult care isn’t available students are left home alone unsupervised, putting their health and safety at risk.

Nutrition: The vast majority of students in those 28 Missouri districts that have opted for the shortened week qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family’s low income. In many cases, the only nutritious meals those students eat are eaten at school.

Juvenile Delinquency: When students are not in school and unsupervised, crime rates tend to rise, particularly vandalism. In their research, Fischer and Argyle (2018) analyzed crime reports in Colorado and found a 20% increase in juvenile crime.

Student Learning and Achievement: Very little quality research has been conducted on the long-term academic impact of a shortened school week, so the field is ripe for study. State departments of education should be very cautious when approving requests for a shortened school week and should monitor performance closely over time. A starting point is to focus in on one state at a time and track various data points longitudinally. To that end, some insights can be gleaned about the 28 Missouri school districts that have elected to adopt a four-day week schedule based on an analysis of data publicly available from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

  • Out of the 28 Missouri school districts on a four-day schedule, only 1 received full accreditation with no sanctions during their last Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) accreditation site visit.
  • Five out of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 1 sanctions, meaning officials must adopt a District Improvement Plan designed to improve key areas of concern. Annual Performance Reviews (APRs) will be monitored closely by state department officials.
  • Three of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 2 sanctions, citing a higher level of concern by MSIP teams. Level 2 schools are under even greater scrutiny to demonstrate growth and improvement.
  • Thirteen out of 28—that’s more than 46%–of the school districts on a four-day schedule received District Improvement Level 3 sanctions – the most severe of all sanctions while still maintaining accreditation. In these cases, the last MSIP accreditation review revealed numerous serious concerns relative to program quality, student achievement, and other related indicators.
  • Of those 13 districts earning Level 3 sanctions, only two exceeded the 2018 Missouri per-pupil expenditure average. The remaining 26 school districts all are currently spending less than the state average per pupil. While not conclusive, these data suggest there is a correlation between the amount of funding school districts receive and student achievement.

So, what’s the bottom line?

A well-educated society is essential to a healthy, thriving culture. Without a solid educational foundation our skilled workforce will diminish, and entrepreneurs will look elsewhere. Our pool of thought-leaders and problem solvers will decrease, and over time the strength of our nation will be challenged.

Given the important role that our public schools have played in our nation’s success, it is imperative that we continue to recognize the need to fully fund them. School officials should not be forced into making tough choices that could jeopardize learning. Every single student in the United States deserves an educational experience that is second to none, regardless of the color of his skin, the native language spoken in her home, or the zip code in which they live. Every. Single. Student.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com).

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Blended Learning & Student Achievement: What Really Matters

Technology might actually have a negative effect on student learning. Or, more specifically, using technology in the classroom isn’t a guarantee that students will become better readers or develop stronger math skills, or go on to graduate. Brookings looked closely at achievement data and concluded what many educators have already understood:

Teachers matter. High quality instruction matters. Technology tools help, but only as supplements to support and enhance instruction.  

 

Blended Learning

One method that’s become popular these days is blended learning. There are many approaches to teaching and learning, but the blended learning model makes a lot of sense for students in 21st Century schools. With blended learning, students receive face-to-face instruction from their teacher(s), which is then supplemented by some type of technology-based or online learning. This approach is sometimes referred to as hybrid learning, but the two really are not necessarily the same. Sometimes, hybrid learning represents a mixture of on-site instruction and field-based experiences and could even be part of an apprenticeship model. Technology certainly plays an integral role within a hybrid model when students complete on-site simulations such as in a healthcare field experience, or gain practice working on a computerized numerical controlled (CNC) machine as part of an apprenticeship.

Using Blended Learning in School

Sometimes using labels as personalized learning, blended learning, hybrid learning, and others, elementary school officials are starting to rely heavily on technology to boost students’ learning. When used as a supplement or an extension to teacher instruction, it can be an effective tool. Parents report their students are more eager to attend school and they seem more excited about learning. This increases daily attendance rates which in many states, supports the funding schools receive each year.

High schools and universities have also been experimenting with infusing technology into instruction for several reasons. For example, technology can be a great way for small or rural schools to provide their students with a teacher who has expertise in a foreign language or some other specialty that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Likewise, advanced learners often benefit from taking online courses for college credit while still in high school.

However, the adoption of blended learning is sometimes driven by economics—with an eye on the bottom line, administrators have figured out that it’s possible to increase teaching loads when inverting the ratio between on-site and web-based instruction, thereby saving the institution considerable money in the short term. A typical classroom can hold approximately 25-30 students, but an online classroom could theoretically hold an unlimited number. In a school that’s operating on a razor-thin budget, an administrator could easily determine that it costs less to hire one teacher as opposed to three or four and temporarily choose to place ethical practice on a shelf. It doesn’t take long, however, for the impact of those poor choices to be realized and the practice is quickly abandoned.

Setting the Stage for an Effective Blended Learning Experience

Front-Load a Successful Outcome: Designing effective blended learning experiences that involve online instruction require up-front work. It’s relatively quick and easy to build an online course but it’s essential to create one that will provide a substantive, meaningful learning experience for students. This means that special attention must be given to curriculum development, instructional methods, assessment design, user-friendly learning platforms, and of course, faculty training. Powerful online teaching and learning doesn’t just happen by itself, which is why many institutions have elected to partner with Quality Matters, a non-profit quality assurance organization that guides schools in their web-based instruction development.

Professional Development is Essential: Effective instruction doesn’t just happen. Teachers must be properly trained in using technology effectively within the blended learning model, and due to the nature of constant change within the field this training must be ongoing. Schools of education must prepare future elementary and secondary teachers to use current technology as instructional tools, and then once in service, school districts must take on the responsibility of providing high-quality professional development, peer coaching, and mentoring to ensure that technology tools are being used effectively. Likewise, while their faculty members hold advanced degrees and are experts within their fields, colleges and universities must also provide high-quality professional development to support excellence in teaching and learning.

Conclusion

As evidenced by the data, Brookings concluded:

It’s not what technology you use; it’s how you use it that matters.

In other words, simply having technology in a classroom does not guarantee that students will learn. Cutting-edge technology tools in and of themselves just aren’t enough to drive achievement. However, when used to supplement high-quality direct instruction, the use of web-based applications and courses can be effective for many students.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com). 

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