In Stockton, Missouri, this week, the board of education voted 5-2 to keep for the 2016–17 school year the four-day school week that had been adopted last year. The school district argues that it saves money by only having to operate buildings for four days, and that they will be better able to retain teachers if they can give them an extra day off each week. Parents are not so sure, with several arguing that it is burdensome to obtain childcare for another day. A survey administered to parents by researchers at the University of Missouri showed support for continuing the shorter school week. Some parents claimed, however, that the survey results were inaccurate and that their children had been negatively impacted by the new school week.
Changing the length of the school week and year has been a topic of debate for years. Before a district decides to adopt such a change, there are a few questions they should ask:
- How will the change affect student achievement? At the board of education meeting, a community member voiced concerns over a decline in standardized testing scores. Board Member Sue Webb pointed out that if a decline in scores is indicated over a two-year period, the district will go back to a five-day school week. The results of this year’s scores won’t be known until June or July. Another man said that he and others were “disgusted” with the idea of a four-day school week because his children’s grades had been negatively impacted this year due to the same schedule. He also mentioned that their behavior had changed for the worse because of the measure.
- Do students really need more leisure time? At the meeting, a law enforcement officer also pointed out a rise in juvenile problems since the school system had adopted the four-day school week in the 2015–16 school year. He said that there had been at least a 15% increase in juvenile problems on Mondays when school isn’t in session. Is the extra day being used for homework or is it just giving students more time to get into trouble?
- Is there a one-size-fits-all solution here? Maybe a shorter school week is good for some students and not good for others. For students with supportive families who will fill their out-of-school time with enriching activities, a shorter school week might be great. For families struggling to get by who need their children in school while they are at work, this might be a real hardship.
Ultimately, a system with more school choice could help resolve these issues. One charter school, for example, could offer a four-day school week, while another could offer five. Families could find the school that best fits their needs. As long as there is only one system, we will continue to see conflict.