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Blog #11: The Search for the Holy Grail of Educational Balance

The Search for the Holy Grail of Educational Balance

Do you have a band or a song that you just think is overrated? I am sure you do. We all have songs that we think are catchy at first and then they get overplayed and lose their meaning. It takes a lot for me to have a song stick around throughout the years. One of the bands that I’ll never get their popularity is the Beatles. Even with people of my generation (Millennials), they are popular. A little of me thinks that they only like them because they think it’s ironic and hipstery to listen to them. I think we all have the musical Across the Universe to thank for that.

But there is one song that I can’t get my head around, “Eight Days a Week”. It is a song if you look at the lyrics, about how he is always going to love her and he is going to spend as much time loving her as possible. I am sure somebody will correct me about it, but I think I get it. I love a corny love song from time to time. One might even say silly love songs. But eight days a week? First off, that doesn’t come out evenly with 365. I have a hard enough time remembering which months have which amount of days, let alone which weeks do. Are there leap weeks now? Also, why can’t you just spend extra time on the original seven-day-a-week schedule? Seems like you should just change your priorities during the week. Somebody is probably going to tell me it’s some “fight the power” thing from the 60s. Wow, look how radical they are not using the traditional calendar. They are so edgy!… Okay, so it is some hipster thing. I understand now.

While I would love to spend the whole time railing against the Beatles, this blog doesn’t have space, and I think we need to spend a little time talking about the fact that maybe the Jonas Brothers can get back together and sing a song called “Four Days of School”….No…Not the Jonas Brothers…Maybe Alice Cooper? “School’s off on Mondays”…I think that’s the winner. This way Pink Floyd will have fewer bricks to put in the wall, which I think in the long run is better for all of us.

Jokes and Rock’n’Roll puns aside, I think it’s time we do our due diligence on the four-day-a-week schedule. Some of you may have noticed that in recent weeks there has been a lot in the news about schools that are switching to a four day school week. There are now 560 districts in twenty-five states that have switched to some form of the four day school week. Of course, all of this is met with both a ton of backlash and support. No matter what side you are on, there has been little things as divisive in schools as the idea of not having students and teachers come in on Mondays or Fridays. Of course, you can see why right? I am going to give you my take on it, but I need you to promise not to use me as a source when getting into arguments with people. I don’t need it on my conscience that there are people out there who are reading this blog and then acting on it. That’s too much power to wield and I don’t think that is something I could ever carry with me.

When it comes to why people say that schools shouldn’t switch to a four day school week, the answers are obvious to both the naked and clothed eye. There will be a tremendous burden that is placed upon parents to cover that extra day their kid isn’t being watched. This hits working class and lower class families the hardest. They can’t afford childcare. They have to work more hours than sometimes they are physically capable to make it so they can afford what they do have. If you throw in an additional cost to their budget, it will send them careening into financial distress. Many schools, especially with these type of families, provide free breakfast and lunches for their students. This is another added cost that schools would be passing down to parents. Sure, some people would scrape to find the money and send their kid to a childcare place, but some wouldn’t have any other choice than to either work less (and lose money to stay home with their child, risking financial distress) or leave their seven-year-old at home by themselves, (which puts them at risk to have their child taken away from them).

This is what many people (who I am not saying are wrong) say is an undue burden upon parents. Some school districts, like the District 27J in Colorado, near Denver, will provide childcare for students under twelve for $30 a day. Which, I know I suck at math, leads to a new $120 deficit in a family’s budget. We are on two teachers salaries (well, sort of) and we send two kids to daycare every day…we can’t wait to get them into school so that part of the cost will be reduced. We are currently celebrating a $20 reduction in our weekly bill because one of our sons got older (naturally, since he isn’t Benjamin Button). If we are celebrating an $80 cut in our monthly budget as two middle-class parents, imagine how stressed parents who make at or below the poverty level now have to come up with an extra $90 a week (or $360 a month) to pay for their three kids to be taken care of one more day a week?

Now for the pros. Some of these things are as obvious as the cons, but some of them are a stretch. Many school districts say that having fewer school days in the calendar reduces the number of absences from both teachers and students. Some districts that struggle to attract decent teachers are hoping that this will attract teachers to their district or that they would just stay at the district. This increases the amount of time that students get in the class with a teacher. This would make it so parents who wanted to take three-day vacations or doctor’s visits could schedule them on an off day, and students would miss less time in class. Now, generally speaking, these schools have increased the amount of time that students spend at school during these days, which leads me to believe there would be some sort of fatigue when it comes to students’ learning. But since it is such a new trend, there is no way at this moment to determine longitudinally if students are being hurt by these longer days.

Many districts report improved test scores and graduation rates as a result of a 4 day week. Some also show a reduction in discipline referrals (a district in Georgia reported a 73% reduction in discipline issues). The big thing that districts seem to be pointing to is the reduction in cost to the district. It is estimated that on average, districts will save 4.6% in their annual budgets. Not a ton, but for poorer districts that count every penny, that 4.6% could be the difference between having class sizes of thirty-five in Algebra 1 versus twenty-five, which we all know greatly affects student learning. In District 27J in Colorado, that amount equals $1 million dollars. That’s a lot of cash that the district can use for other things. But will it be spent on the “right” things is the issue. Will it be spent on hiring new teachers and increasing learning during the new four day week, or will it be used on a new gym floor or football field? (Some would say that’s a good use of the money. I played sports, I get that.) But is the money going to be used in the way to benefit the most students?

I guess the only thing we can do now is watch and observe as these districts dip their toes into untested waters. But make no mistake, people are watching. Some of those people hope they fall flat on their face and some pray that they find the holy grail of educational balance. One thing can be sure, something needs to change. If it’s fewer days in the school week, I would be willing to give it a try, IF the right supports were there for families. But if it fails, I will not fault these school districts for trying. We are all just a collection of Edison’s hoping that our filament will be the one that turns on the light bulb, and sparks a revolution that drastically improves education in this country.

Thanks for reading,

Seth Tripp