Jordan Green weighs in on 4-day school weeks

by Jordan Green

If you've read any news at all about the Oklahoma Legislature in the past two years, you know that education funding has become a top priority for lawmakers.

Now, there's another topic they will have to address: whether four-day schools weeks are appropriate for public schools.

Some Oklahoma schools have been using four-day weeks as a money-saving tactic for a few years now. Estimates show that almost one-fifth of all state schools have a four-day school week. And, in case you haven't already heard about it, Blackwell Public Schools are considering joining that number.

Why? Money.

The idea behind adopting a four-day week is to cut daily operating expenses. These include heating and cooling costs, fuel costs for school buses, and pay for support staff like janitors and cafeteria workers. When you only go to school for four days, you can cut down on the number of times you fire up the school buses. And you can cut down on the number of days that you serve lunch to students. (Some districts have found ways to pay their support staff at the same levels. Not all four-day districts cut staff pay.)

While a four-day school has less days, students still get the required 1,080 hours of classroom instruction by making school days last longer. Since Oklahoma's mandatory classroom time is based off of hours, not days, a four-day week is perfectly legal.

There are some benefits to a four-day week. First, there are savings in expenses. Also, four-day schools have less difficulty attracting teachers: after all, who doesn't want to have Friday off? In addition, some Oklahoma schools say the four-day week has improved their attendance records. One Oklahoma school that went a four-day week – Newcastle – saved enough money on fuel for buses alone to pay for a teacher's salary, the district superintendent told News Channel 4 in 2017. He also said that academics hadn't been impacted.

But there are also disadvantages. In some cases, support staff members like custodians and cafeteria workers are the ones who come home with less money, not teachers and administrators. In addition, schools often report poorer student outcomes.

While four-day weeks may offer a monetary savings and make teacher recruitment easier, some argue that four-day weeks sacrifice a school's quality of education and the success of its students in order to save a few pennies.

Some Oklahoma lawmakers believe four-day weeks are bad. Senator Leader Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, recently told News Channel 4: "We believe the five-day school week is extremely important if you put the focus on the student. Study after study has shown hours in the classroom and a student's attention - if they need to be there from 6 in the morning 'til 3-4 at night, their attention span doesn't work as well.”

Treat's Republican-led Senate has introduced several bills to mandate a five-day school week statewide, KFOR said. But is it really the state's job to decide what works and what doesn't?

Senator Roland Pederson, R-Burlington, recently said that he believes the decision should be up to individual districts, as each district is different.

In a phone interview last week, Pederson, who represents Blackwell, said his constituents have called him to voice their opinions about a four-day week.

“I know Blackwell is interested in a four-day week,” he said.

The senator said the biggest problem with a four-day week isn't so much the schedule itself, but rather a widespread perception that Oklahoma students receive less classroom instruction – and thus, a poorer education.

“In my opinion, it's more of a perception that Oklahoma is poor,” he said. “All these other states think all Oklahoma kids only go to school four days a week. What they don't realize is that students still have the same amount of instruction.”

Pederson said he believes individual school districts should be allowed to decide whether or not to have a four-day week, not the Legislature.

“Those districts that can have student outcomes just as good in four days as those that go to school for five should be allowed to decide for themselves,” he said.

Pederson also said that four-day weeks can improve student attendance and actually keep students in the classroom more than a five-day week can.

“Kids with lots of extracurricular activities are sometimes there for only four days. If you can push all of those activities to a Friday when school is out, you can reduce the time lost,” he said.

“The bottom line is: are the kids learning as much in four days as they can in five? The perception is that they can't. [But] All districts aren't created equally.”