Four-day school weeks leave students stuck in traffic

Oct. 6, 2008, midnight | By David Tao | 15 years, 6 months ago

Increasingly popular policy sacrifices student education for additional funding

School systems across the country are taking a financial beating this year. Energy costs are skyrocketing. Diminishing property values have significantly reduced the amount of funding available to public schools, which draw most of their funding from property taxes. Amidst this turbulent economic atmosphere, schools are frantically searching for new ways to save money. Instead of laying off staff or cutting back on academic programs, a growing number of schools are considering a four-day school week.

The four-day school week, first conceptualized during the oil crisis of the 1970s, exchanges Monday or Friday classes for an extension in the regular school day. By closing their doors for one additional day per week, schools can theoretically save money by turning off idle heating and air conditioning systems that consume copious amounts of energy. Transportation costs are cut because there are no students to transport when schools are closed. In short, the policy sounds like a perfect deal, providing an extra day off for students and freeing up extra cash for the school district. In 2003, Virginia approved legislation allowing schools to transition to a four-day school week. Before Montgomery County and the Maryland State Legislature follow suit however, they need to consider the potential damage to students' education.

While already overworked high school students may welcome an extra day off with open arms, the four-day school week is not as helpful as they might think. The policy compensates for the missing day by extending classes for a fairly long period of time, usually around an hour. For example, Blair students who are normally dismissed at 2:10 p.m. would instead be dismissed at 3:10 p.m. Although more class time per day translates to more time to cover concepts and assign homework in the classroom, it also leads to less time to finish the assigned work at home. In a four-day school week system, regular buses leaving Blair at 3:10 p.m. as well as Magnet/CAP buses leaving Blair at 4 p.m. would be caught at the beginning of rush-hour traffic, lengthening students' homeward commutes.

These extensions also have a negative impact on extracurricular activities. Under the four-day school week's class-time extensions, Blair's activity busses would leave at 5:20 p.m., compounding the time crunch which members of after-school activities already face. This is especially problematic for athletes, whose commitments to practices and games can last long after their classmates are dismissed. Practice commitments alone regularly last at least two hours per day after school and usually end at around 6:30 p.m. "It's almost like a full time job," Adrian Kelly, head coach of Blair's JV football team, said. The class-time extensions would end practice at 7:30 p.m. and the latest morning school bus to Blair, route 6120, arrives at its first stop at 6:58 a.m. To meet the National Sleep Foundation's recommended nine hours of sleep per night for adolescents, student athletes will have to go to sleep at 10 p.m. at the latest, leaving at most two-and-a-half hours to eat dinner, finish homework and study for tests. Since most busses arrive at their first stops between 6 a.m. and 6:45 a.m., most athletes will have even less time to study if they want a healthy amount of sleep.

The extra day off is the program's supposed silver lining that will give students more time to finish their work. However, since most day-to-day homework such as math worksheets and journal entries are due the class after they're assigned, the extra day off has little effect upon students' academic workload. Instead, the extra day off only causes problems for county residents. Families with students in elementary or middle school, for example, will be forced to find adult supervision for their children on the extra day off. This could be especially troublesome for low-income families, as the cost of an extra day of childcare may not be affordable. The policy could force them to leave their young children at home unsupervised, which may lead to an increased number of childhood accidents.

School districts that have employed the four-day school week may have succeeded in balancing their budgets and keeping academic programs intact, but at what cost? Even as they strive to reduce expenses, school officials must keep their organizational mission in mind: to provide a quality education to the county's students. If schools want to maintain this quality, the five-day school week must be continued.

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