Do schools exist to educate children or do they exist to provide childcare?
The Maxwell Unified School District Board of Trustees agreed that it is a little bit of both.
The school board earlier this month opted not to consider a change to a four-day school week after they decided that doing so might put a burden on working parents and result in negative student outcomes.
“I think it would work for the high school, but not for the elementary school,” said School Board President Kelly Haywood.
According to information provided to the board by Superintendent Zach Thurman, about 560 districts in 25 states have adopted a four-day school, largely to cut transportation costs. In California, however, moving to fewer days and longer hours is much more difficult, especially with a new law that could require later start times by 2022.
“In California, you must go through the legislature if you want to change your school day,” Thurman said. “It doesn’t sound like something that is easy to do.”
The school board initially looked into the idea of going to a four-day school week, not as a way to significantly reduce the cost of doing business, but as a way to address student absenteeism on Friday among athletes who travel out of the area to play sports.
But according to the district’s research, the academic outcomes of four-day school weeks are mixed.
In one study, students in Colorado showed significant improvement in math scores among students on a four-day schedule. In another study, academic performance in Oregon declined among minority, low income, and special needs students.
There is also no indication that a four-day saves more than 2.5 percent the budget for most districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which also reported that students with an extra day of unstructured time could result in higher juvenile crime, and put a strain on parents to find suitable childcare, provide meals, or provide transportation to other activities.
Although Maxwell trustees felt the four-day school week would be popular with teachers, they didn’t think a Tuesday-Thursday schedule that adds about 20 minutes per day in instructional time would benefit the students and the community in general.
“I’m not for it,” said Trustee Robert Shadley. “Unless there are some really hard facts, there is really no huge cost savings from this. If anything, the kids would be in school longer per day, and for the little ones, it would be a problem.” ■