Fix it, break it, no one wins

teachers

Even before Covid, public school districts faced an uphill challenge of finding and keeping good teachers. Most folks pointed fingers at relatively low pay as the culprit. But the reasons go far beyond pay. Lack of respect from both students and parents, government interference by not letting teachers actually teach, having to teach to the test, a lack of understanding about just how many hours a good teacher puts in, and the list goes on. In order to deal with what could be termed a chronic problem with finding and keeping teachers, school districts began offering signing bonuses. When that didn’t work, they asked state leaders to let them hire uncertified teachers who had real-life experience. There were other so-called solutions and guess what? None of them worked, not in the long term. So now there’s a new solution being considered by a growing number of districts: the four day school week.

That initial sound you hear are kids cheering the thought of having a three-day weekend. What they don’t get is most states are like Texas. There’s a minimum number of days/hours a student must attend class each school year. That won’t change with a four-day week. What will change are the number of hours a day the students will have to attend school.

So, assume the average school day is eight hours. According to a recent article in the Dallas Morning News, Texas requires at least 75,600 minutes of instruction each school year. Take out an hour (and I’m being generous) for lunch and pass time between classes. That leaves seven hours a week that would have to be made up. Trust me, the state authorities aren’t going to lessen the number of hours spent in class just because the district wants to get creative with planning their schedule. Instead, school days for kids will be extended an hour or so per day.

Now, that doesn’t seem like much. But look at it from the teacher’s point of view, something that is very carefully being “curated” by districts touting these new schedules. The districts say the four-day week will give teachers more planning time. How? By letting them have an extra day a week to plan. Except, they are extending the school day the other four days a week. They will still require teachers to be at school a set time before classes begin. They will still be required to remain a certain amount of time after the last bell of the day. They will also be required to do their CE courses. So that extra time to plan really isn’t there. It is simply that their hours have been changed around to make it look like they have more time.

Now look at the new schedule from the point of view of the kids. Students will be either starting their school day earlier than before or ending it later or both. And that is just for regular classes. The change in scheduling will also impact their extracurricular activities, sports and band. Don’t get fooled by the administrators saying there will be more time to do those activities on Fridays because there won’t be classes those days.

Remember, most extracurriculars, and especially sports and band, practice more than just once a week. They will still hold those early morning and after class practices. Which means kids will be even later going home.

Oh, and what about the extra time those teachers were going to have to plan for their classes? If all extracurricular activities are moved to Friday, doesn’t that take away from that time?

See the problem?

As for older students who have jobs after school lets out? Too bad, so sad. This new schedule will impact when they will be able to report for work. It will mean employers will have to redo schedules and might even mean those students will find they can no longer meet the scheduling requirements of their employers.

But here is the impact most of the administrators touting the glories of such a schedule change fail to address: what are parents supposed to do about this newly school-free day?

Are they supposed to leave little Junior and Mindy Sue home alone even though they aren’t really old enough to stay by themselves? With the always rising cost of daycare, etc., who is going to swallow the economic cost of such a major change in school schedules? Initially, it will be the parents. Then it will be taxpayers. The former because they will have to find a way to make sure their kids are safely cared for while the parents are at work. The latter because, sooner or later, districts will have to start programs where these younger students could still come to school on Fridays so they don’t become latchkey kids.

But this is supposed to be good because it will attract new teachers and help keep those teachers already with the district.

Maybe instead of trying to break an already broken system, these same administrators try to fix it. Look at why teachers are leaving. Find out why parents are pulling their kids from public schools and putting them into private ones or homeschooling. Talk with legislators, pressure them, to take the emphasis off the test and back onto actually teaching the fundamentals. If they don’t, we will continue to see the trend of finding and keeping teachers getting worse. We will see more and more parents pulling their kids out of public schools. I could go on but you know what I mean.

All I can hope for right now is that these districts (especially those in major metropolitan areas where most parents work to be able to afford a home/apartment as well as food, car payments, etc.), look at the big picture and the economic impact such a scheduling change will have on the families in their district. If not, this proposal will fail just as so many others aimed at solving the teacher shortage problem have.


Featured image created by Midjourney AI.

5 Comments

  1. My district is already at 4 days, and all it’s done is increase ‘virtual days’ (aka ‘school by homework’) and shorten summers. A lot of folk seem to love it, or at least they muster enough folk to save it every time we try to get rid of it, but I cannot see the appeal.

    1. The local district looking at it right now is finding teachers to go on the news, etc., to talk about how wonderful it will be. After all, they will have Fridays to do things like doctor appointments, shopping etc., and not have to worry about finding a substitute teacher. Again, it doesn’t take into account the fact they will have to do just that–find a sub–if they are a sponsor for extracurricular activities, a coach, band director, etc., and have activities/practices those days. Nor does it address the need for additional child care for parents who work. Some concerned parents are also talking about how they are not happy because schools already talk about how there are discipline problems in schools as is. What’s going to happen with an additional hour of classroom time each day?

      1. On top of that. Things like Memorial day? Well you get Monday off, but not Friday that week. Which can play merry hob with all that scheduling. Practices do not wind up being on non-school days though games might. In addition, our school starts earlier and ends later than most, and still has some 5 day weeks to make it all work. They say it saves money, but I’m not sure how. It’s more mess, more scheduling conflict for no benefit I can see.

        1. Yep. And, it doesn’t fix the underlying problem of why districts can’t hire — and keep — good teachers. It doesn’t fix the problems of teaching to the test. All it does is put a bandage on the “sore” and hide it for a while.

  2. For what it is worth, I knew how to find the rules on hours-of-instruction– more as a digression than anything else. (Homeschooler, of the “always learning” sort, so it’s largely academic to me.)

    https://nces.ed.gov/programs/statereform/tab5_14.asp

    Texas requires a minimum of seven hours a (standard) school day, but they include recess and lunch time, and have a required total of 1,260 hours, divide by four that’s 315 weeks-of-however-many-hours-we-end-up-using.

    I do know that my high school used a “block” schedule, where we alternated sets of classes because that let us have …I think it was 90 minutes a class? It may have been 120 if you included the breaks between, it’s been quite some time. 😀 That said, it *was* much better because everyone did their homework when the teacher was there to be able to actually teach. (some teachers really hated it for exactly that reason)

    When I was at China Lake NAS, they had what they called “flex Friday.” Every other week, we’d have Friday off; the other work days were extended to cover the “lost” hours. Again, big quality of life improvement.

    Issue with doing this in public schools is that they’re *already* used as daycare, and this just makes it worse because it’s even less reliable daycare.

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