States Weigh Four-Day School Week To Cut Costs
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This next story was a bit surprising to us, because we've been hearing so many stories about school systems trying to find ways to give students more time on task in the classroom. However, a small but growing number of school districts are bucking that trend and moving to a four-day week, mainly to save money. About 100 schools in 17 states use a four-day model and many more are reportedly looking at an abbreviated work week. Mike Griffith is the senior school finance analyst for the Education Commission of the States, and he's compiled data about this emerging trend, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
Mr. MIKE GRIFFITH (Senior School Finance Analyst, Education Commission of the States): Thank you, glad to be here.
NORRIS: Mr. Griffith, how does this work? If the students are in school only four days a week, are those four days much longer?
Mr. GRIFFITH: They are longer, but I wouldn't say much longer. They're about an hour more a day, about an hour and ten minutes in most cases, over the tradition school day.
NORRIS: And are we talking mainly elementary schools?
Mr. GRIFFITH: It's a mix of elementary schools and high schools. We've seen some districts change all their schools over to the four-day week. In other cases we've seen individual schools within districts change to the four-day week.
NORRIS: I understand school districts are doing this primarily because of budget concerns. Do they really save that much money by shaving one day off the week?
Mr. GRIFFITH: The only districts that save a lot money for moving to this are those districts that have an awful lot of bussing required and high transportation costs. So, it's those schools districts that have a small amount of students in a large geographical area. So, it tends to be rural districts that mostly pick up on this program.
NORRIS: Does this in the end, though, make it more difficult to improve student performance? It seems to fly in the face of several reports and directives and an awful lot of reporting that suggests that students actually do better if they spend more time in the classroom, not less.
Mr. GRIFFITH: There is an awful lot of debate about it. And we've seen the trend - in the past there were school districts that had a four-day school week. They tended to be in places that it was difficult to transport students. But as time has moved on, we've seen more districts looking at this because of cost savings. But the jury is still out if there is a great impact on student learning one way or the other. There is an awful lot of feeling out there, although not a lot of statistics right now, that moving to this could actually hurt student learning.
NORRIS: And yet more and more schools are at least looking into this.
Mr. GRIFFITH: They are because right now with the cutbacks in state funding and local funding they need to find ways to balance their budget. So, they're not left with many options at a certain point, so the things you're looking at are choices that are tough for anyone to make. Either larger class size or discontinuation of programs like arts and science and music or moving to something like this.
Now one of the issues around it is at first you think you can save a great deal of money, but as you look at it as a school or school district the amount you save is really not that high. You're talking maybe saving five percent or so from your budget. And so, once people start to see that the savings are that low, even though they talk about it and think about it they tend to back away from the four-day week.
NORRIS: What do the parents think of this?
Mr. GRIFFITH: They're mixed. In some cases, it really gets down to what is your individual family dynamic? If there is a parent at home, either who works at home or is a stay-at-home parent, then they are much more receptive to it. If, though, both parents are working it creates some difficulties, and we've seen some push back from those families where they say, you know, now we have to spend time for daycare or a baby sitter. We have to adjust our schedules. In some cases their bosses are not flexible with their work plans, and it creates some difficulties.
NORRIS: It is interesting, though, since it wasn't that long ago that schools were introducing year-round programs.
Mr. GRIFFITH: Absolutely, and it's sort of a unique thing. Just maybe two years ago, we kept hearing over and over of extending the school day, extending the school year, trying to get more weekend programs for those students who are behind. And then they come to this point now where we're talking more and more about reduced time. They've cut everything they can, and now they're looking at what's left that we can cut to save some money.
NORRIS: Mike Griffith, thank you very much.
Mr. GRIFFITH: Thank you.
NORRIS: Mike Griffith is a senior school finance analyst for the Education Commission of the States. He joined us from Denver.
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