Schools Start Prepping for Four-Day School Weeks

With local economies across the nation facing budget crises, and worries about India and China overtaking the U.S. in education, school districts are looking to cut costs, avoid layoffs and maintain standards.

Many hope a four-day school week could be the solution.

It's not a new concept -- four-day weeks provided a source of transportation savings during the 1970s energy crisis in New Mexico -- and it seems better suited to smaller, rural districts than large, urban districts.

Advocates say that since students are in school for longer periods of time, they have more interaction with teachers and teachers have more time to make the material clear. Some districts have reported fewer behavioral problems -- students are better rested and focused on their studies.

Opponents worry about younger students' ability to stay focused in a longer day and question whether students are more apt to forget material with longer periods of time away from the classroom.

Nevertheless, in rural America, it's catching on.

More than 120 school districts across the nation, largely in the West, have adopted it, with an average annual savings of 25 percent in utilities and transportation costs. Colorado has the highest number of districts running on four-day weeks -- approximately one third of its 180 districts.

In Idaho the Snake River and Preston school districts will begin a four-day week this fall. Barbara Taylor, Preston superintendant, says the 2,500-student district, located near Idaho Falls, expects to see most of the savings coming from transportation and reduced pay for bus drivers. "We're hoping to save $150,000, not a huge cost savings, but with the examples of the districts around us, we are going to try it for a year," Taylor said.

Taylor said switching to four days was a better option than laying off teachers or cutting their pay. As for a response from the community, Taylor says she hasn't heard much -- yet.

"I really haven't had any negative response or likewise I haven't had anyone say, 'I'm very excited.' I've had some parents concerned over the length of time their kids are going to be in school, but it hasn't been, 'I'm mad.' That could change when the school year starts," said Taylor.

The Custer school district in Custer, S.D., shifted to four-day weeks back in 1995 to save money. Since then, the district saves about $70,000 a year in transportation.

Custer district superintendent Tim Creal says they've seen many other benefits, such as increased attendance rates and adds that the community has embraced the four-day week. High schools train students to babysit so they can care for the younger students on Fridays, when school is out. The YMCA and other community organizations have pitched in to provide activities. Plus, "we feel we get more face-to-face time with students, particularly those who participate in sports activities," Creal told "We focus our sports activities on Thursday nights and Fridays so they're in class the other four days."

Christine Donis-Keller, a researcher at the center for education policy at the University of Southern Maine, did a comprehensive study of several districts on four-day weeks across the country. While she cautions there isn't much rigorous research yet, Donis-Keller says Custer's positive results are common.

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