What If Students Only Went to School Four Days a Week?

What If Students Only Went to School Four Days a Week?

Date
Monday, March 20, 2017

Excerpt from Hayley Glatter's interview with Paul Hill in The Atlantic

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Boundary County School District—which includes Bonners Ferry—is one of the increasing number of rural districts adopting a four-day school-week model. Especially popular in the Mountain West region, 88 districts in Colorado, 43 in Idaho, 30 in Oregon, and nearly half of those in Montana are on the schedule, according to a new Brookings analysis. In most cases, instead of coming in on Friday, students spend longer hours at school Monday through Thursday, with the end goal being that the new schedule will not only save the schools some money, but also allow teachers to collaborate more and students to receive more extracurricular enrichment. However, educational outcomes from the four-day switch have proved inconclusive, and the cost-cutting hypothesis has largely been disproven, according to Paul Hill, a professor at the University of Washington Bothell and a co-author of the Brookings piece and a companion paper on the same topic.

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Hayley Glatter: I understand why a district would be compelled to give the four-day model a try if the school board thought it would result in some savings. But as you wrote in the Brookings piece, that's actually not the case, and many districts decided to go to the model after the cost-savings idea was debunked. Why do you think they still tried it?

Paul Hill: It’s one of those things where people think they can do what others didn’t. They hope to save money even if the odds are low. But there are two other reasons people go to it: At least initially, I think superintendents were enthusiastically thinking they could find a way to get more time for teachers to collaborate and maybe actually improve instruction. But the other was that teachers and families with stay-at-home moms and so on were all pretty glad to have that one day extra on the weekend where they could do things like take their kids to the doctor. So it was a combination of hope for academic benefits and real family and quality-of-life benefits.

Glatter: It sounds like a lot of those quality-of-life benefits are more adult-centric rather than child-centric.

Hill: Well, practically all of them are. You can see where children of fairly privileged families said, “Oh here’s my chance to take my kid to the college-prep course or on a tour or to get involved in an enrichment project of some kind.” The kids could come out fine from that, but what we’re concerned about are two sets of kids. One, little kids who were, because of the way four-day weeks were structured, going to school a lot longer days; it wasn’t clear to anybody that they were able to handle that. Secondly, the kids of poorer families or families who weren’t two-earner families where the kids might be at loose ends on the fifth day. And we were particularly concerned in Idaho, where we were studying, about the recently settled-out migrant families, of whom some districts had a lot, where there was really no structure of any kind in the neighborhoods where those kids lived. I’m a political scientist, and I’m always wary of a situation where groups of people can make decisions in their interest and exclude the interest of others, and the big issue in education is always: Will adults make a deal that suits them but doesn’t help kids? I’m afraid that’s the case here, or it can be.

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Read the full interview.

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