More Schools Considering a Four-Day Week

A growing number of public schools are currently doing what many educators once considered unimaginable: eliminating an entire school day each week,  writes Lyndsey Layton at the Washington Post.

At least 292 school districts nationwide have a four-day week, according to a Washington Post survey, more than double the 120 estimated two years ago.  Another signal that this is shaping up to be a “cliff year” in American education as the evaporation of federal stimulus funds and other fiscal troubles force many schools to make dramatic cuts.

Growing economic pressures have forced districts small and large across the country to consider the drastic practice.

“Five years ago, I rarely got a call about this. Now I’m getting a call a day,” said Michael Griffith, senior policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States, which advises states on policy and practices. “And for the first time, the larger, more urban districts are talking about it.”

The Washington region, with its strong local economy, has largely been spared severe budget pressures felt elsewhere. No local school districts have seriously considered cutting the week, and some face built-in obstacles. In Maryland, for example, state law would have to be changed, writes Layton.

Interestingly, supporters of the schedule tend to be households where one parent is home on Mondays.

“I like the three-day weekends,” said Joyce Torgerson, a part-time nurse with two children in elementary school. “We like to go camping and fishing and on trips like that. I feel like this gives us freedom to do things as a family.”

Under the four-day schedule, class periods are stretched from 45 minutes to 58 minutes. Teachers have to recalibrate their lessons and employ various tricks to try to keep students focused as the day wears on, writes Layton.

In some schools teachers try to schedule challenging material early in the day or at the start of a period, with frequent breaks for stretches and snacks in the late afternoon. And at the elementary school, Principal Jason Hartmann has taken the original step of replacing some desk chairs with stability balls because he thinks they help keep the children alert. Many teachers are also avoiding giving homework on a weeknight.

These steps may seem extensive and complex, but in this current climate districts will be looking to save money in any way they can.