The four-day school weeks advance in US schools

In 600 districts, the students go one day less to class so that the State saves costs and attracts disenchanted teachers.

Source: El País

Since the 1930s there have been many in the United States who think that in order to save costs in schools and attract teachers, it is necessary to promote the four-day school weeks. And it is a fact. Nearly 600 districts in 25 states have distributed the fifth day of class hours among the other four. The locomotive started in 2008, with the economic crisis.

In Colorado or New Mexico, half of the schools work like this. A decade ago the figure was six times smaller. The unique characteristics of each territory make it impossible to estimate the savings for schools, but it does not exceed 5.43%, according to the Commission of Education of the States (ECS).

Efforts to attract teachers to rural areas affect, among others, the parents of students. The researchers were concerned that the short week would have a negative impact on working parents, but it has not been. «We have not seen this as a problem, to be honest,» says Georgia expert Heyward.

The solutions range from leaving children at the home of a relative, to take them to a daycare or church. «I am worried about what happens when the program is implemented in larger areas, where they will not hear all the voices before adopting the change and where there are not always informal support networks,» she says. In the case of Grayson County, Virginia, one of the obstacles to implementing the system is that there are no recreational or child care centers, explains Wilmore.

«Although the figures are not necessarily high, the prospect of saving a small amount is attractive to districts for what they can do with that money,» says Julie Rowland Woods, commission policy analyst. For example, Duva (Florida) reduced its expenses by 0.7%, which translated into seven million dollars (6.18 million euros). That amount allowed him to hire 70 teachers.

This boom has been installed in a year marked by strikes in March and April by teachers for the progressive cuts in public education. They earn on average less than in 2000, according to data from the Department of Education adjusted for inflation. That is why they have become multi-employees to face, among other increases, the increase in the cost of health insurance. It is attractive to have a day to dedicate to another job or to prepare the classes.

«When we began to analyze the four-day week in 2015, the main reason was financial or for teachers to have more time to train. Now, the districts are mainly concerned with attracting teachers, «explains Georgia Heyward, head of the study What do we really know about the four-day school week ?, from the Center for the Reinvention of Public Education.

The majority of the districts belong to Western States, mainly rural. However, the trend is spreading to big cities and seducing to the east. Kelly Wilmore, superintendent of Grayson County centers, is working to reduce the week in Virginia: «Above all, we believe it will give us a tremendous advantage in recruiting and retaining teachers who prefer to work four days.»

The salary of the professors and their benefits does not vary, because the hours that they do not impart are distributed in the other four days. The saving is in substitute teachers that are not required. That translates into 0.3% of the total budget. Less is spent on maintenance, administrative expenses, student support, transportation and food. As many rural areas are poor, the free food offered by the school is key. Some send children home with food for the day off.

Colorado, where 55% of the districts are already working with short weeks, investigated the academic effects based on the national mathematics exam of the elementary students: the grades improved the first two years and then they were maintained. «Some preliminary research suggests that change increases student attendance, and that can help improve student achievement,» says academics Mark Anderson and Mary Beth Walke in «Shortening the school week affects student performance» (2015). ). The opposite case is Minnesota, where the Department of Education demanded that seven of the 11 districts return to the normal school calendar because the academic results «were not adequate.»

Deb Henton, awarded as Minnesota’s best superintendent in 2018, says the number one priority at the time of the change was to retain the teachers. In one year, North Branch, the area the teacher heads, saved $ 300,000. «Now that we have returned after five days, the teaching situation is challenging,» he admits, as budget problems