Crosscut recently reported on the Eatonville School District's consideration of a four-day school week, which is already being used by two rural school districts with fewer than 150 students in Eastern Washington. During this legislative session, Sen. Randi Becker R-Eatonville, proposed a bill that would allow 20 school districts of up to 2,200 students to use the four-day school week. Here, Don Kordosky, superintendent of Oregon's Oakridge School District, shares his personal experience and insights on making the switch.
When considering the switch from a five-day school week to a four-day school week, one need only recall that classic saying: “Less is more.”
As superintendent of Oakridge School District in Oregon, I learned this through personal experience when my schools made the switch. Initially, I was against the idea. How could a four-day week possibly be in the best interest of students? But after doing the research and seeing the benefits firsthand, I became a complete supporter.
The positives of the four-day week far outweigh the negatives, and the negatives can all be alleviated through well-thought-out strategies. The parents of our students, the staff, the school board, and the entire community of Oakridge reviewed the four-day week for an entire year prior to implementation. Since implementation I have become a four-day week advocate because of all the positive attributes including: better student academic performance, increased teacher vitality, increased student engagement, decreased student discipline problems, and an improvement to the overall culture of excellence for the district.
Most school districts originally begin a review of the four-day school week as a strategy to address financial shortfalls. (Mine did not.) By trimming one day off the week, a school can save in bus services, cafeteria, and facilities costs. This can be especially crucial during state budget shortfalls, where K-12 funding can be in danger of cuts, and even more so for rural school districts, which must run their schools on a minimal budget. But not all school districts go to a four-day week because of money, and certainly it is not the only way a school can benefit from the change.
The four-day week is not for all districts, and there are negative attributes that need to have alleviation strategies in place prior to implementation. Negative attributes include parent fears of not being able to find child care on Fridays, fatigue for students that have to attend school for longer days, and decreases in compensation for employees who lose hours.
An example of an alleviation strategy for the child care concern is the offering of Red Cross Childcare First Aid certification classes for high school students. These students then became available for parents who could not find relatives or other child care on Fridays. Another strategy is offering extra duty employment for bus drivers, cooks, and custodians, who all lose significant hours. In our district we made it a practice to offer all paid athletic supervision and activity duties to the employees who lost work time prior to other employees. Regardless of the negative consequence associated with the four-day week, there are strategies to alleviate the negative impact on students, families and staff.
Of note, many parents have found that eliminating the large number of half-days for students that plague five-day weeks — such as teacher work days, curriculum days, grading days, inservice days, etc. — has made finding childcare easier. With the four-day week, teachers can do their non-teaching activities on the day off, and therefore schools do not have to send children home at awkward and inconsistent times.
However, what I have found is that most common four-day school week objections are derived more from a fear of change (and a indeed a reasonable concern) rather than empirical study. When scrutinized, these objections are both addressed and debunked by the switch. To demonstrate that point, here are four reasons why the four-day school week is an improvement to the five-day week.
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