EDUCATION

Schools in rural areas shifting toward a 4-day week

Dr. Margaret Honey, President & CEO of the NY Hall of Science, and Jaymes Dec discuss the importance of STEM education and how the Department of Education can make improvements

 

For once, both teachers and their students agree that less school is a good thing. Or at least less frequent school.

A dynamic shift has begun in rural school districts across the United States, with many considering -- and in some cases implementing -- a four-day school week. The reason is to bring down costs and enrich the learning environment with extracurricular development for pupils.

The trend has been increasingly popular in the Mountain West region of the country, with 88 districts in Colorado, 30 in Oregon and nearly half of all school districts in Montana shifting to a four-day week, according to The Atlantic.

School districts in other parts of the country are expected to follow suit in the years to come.

Most of the programs implement a similar schedule, wherein students spend longer days in class Monday through Thursday with the start of their weekends on Friday. Boundary County School District is one of 43 districts in Idaho that has implemented the four-day school week, which leaves them with 29 three-day weekends.

Boundary County School Superintendent Gary Pflueger says that they have had the system implemented for more than 10 years but that he personally has mixed feelings about its effectiveness.

“There has been a substantial cost savings, but this mostly fell on the backs of our classified employees [lunch, bus, custodial],” he tells Fox News. “Standardized test scores have not shown a significant change due to the change.”

He adds that the longer days can be rough on the students, especially the kindergartners, who are in class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Thursday. 

“In the winter we run dark to dark in the schools,” he said, adding that most teachers and students like the schedule.

“The four-day plan is great for the good old-fashioned traditional families who can spend an enjoyable day together, though these are the minority home environments,” he said. "I do not feel it is so for families of poverty who lose a free breakfast and lunch, a heated and controlled environment and for some positive interaction. The large elementary school in Boundary County is listed as 64 percent free/reduced lunch.”

Education experts theorize that the shorter weeks have no positive financial effect on the districts that implemented them.

“The first few localities to adopt the four-day school week hoped to save money on transportation, heating, janitorial and clerical costs,” according to a recent Brookings Institute article co-authored by professor Paul T. Hill and research analyst Georgia Heyward. “The idea was to add roughly 30 to 90 minutes to each day that students are in school, then on the fifth day (usually Friday) to assign projects and encourage parent and community groups to organize study halls and enrichment activities.

However, savings have been elusive because so many costs -- most importantly teacher salaries and equipment leases -- are fixed. Even on days off, sports teams use buses and drivers for away games. There are also offsetting cost increases. School buildings must be kept open longer four days each week and on the fifth day for teacher meetings.”

The study’s authors concede that the four-day week idea has proven contagious as more and more districts are following suit.

“Initially, the cost-savings thing was very attractive,” Hill said to the Atlantic. “A lot of them have kids that are in fairly remote places and have big busing issues, so they thought they could save money on buses and the like. And they were having financial trouble because not only was state funding in the periods after the Great Recession falling, but so was federal funding for rural areas. So they were concerned about it.”

But some districts have said that they have seen higher-than-expected results since switching to the new schedule.

In Newcastle, Okla., the school district, along with nearly 100 others in the state, switched to the shorter week after a $1.3 billion budget crisis. Last month, Gov. Mary Fallin urged in her recent State of the State address that schools need to have students in class five days a week, but Newcastle School Superintendent Tony O’Brien disagreed, saying that the plan has helped to soften the blow of state budget cuts.

“I’ve saved almost a teacher in diesel [fuel costs] probably already,” O’Brien said to local news station KFOR. He says they’ve also saved substitute teacher costs because teachers don’t have to take a day off for appointments.

O’Brien had estimated they would save 1 percent to 2 percent of their budget, but they are probably ahead of that figure.

One of his language teachers also said that the students are benefiting and the academics have not suffered. 

“Our instruction time is a little bit longer day-wise, so we can get more accomplished.”

Perry Chiaramonte is a reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych