My son, Brandon, is sports editor for the Warrenton County Record. He was telling me recently about how excited the Warrenton High School athletes are that their school district is going to a 4-day school week — as money for state education continues to dry up.
Hot dog! Four-day school weeks! This was never under discussion back when I was walking to school five days a week. That was in the day when actual snow and blizzards hit St. Louis and the polar vortex stuck around from New Year’s to well past Groundhog Day.
Four-day school weeks? This comes at a time when the U.S. is falling further behind in those global rankings of test scores in math, science and language studies. It also comes at a time when Congress and the state legislature want further cuts in taxes and school funding.
Just as Congress passed the Trump trickle down “tax reform package” in 2017, the number of U.S. school districts cut to a 4-day week trickled up to 560 districts across America. Begs the question: Are we still a first-world country?
I’m always amazed when our letter writers harp about high property taxes, but never acknowledge that the money has to come from somewhere when the state and feds are swinging the school budget ax. I’m even more amazed when they beat up on “high-paid, coddled teachers” while Congress creates more billionaire oligarchs with “tax reforms.”
So now America is finding a solution to all of this with a 4-day school week. Proponents of the shortened week say it helps districts that are strapped for cash, increases quality family time, and will act as a magnet for the best teachers who are tired of working 5-day weeks in districts that are behind the times.
My friend Tom Cornell, interim dean of Webster University’s School of Education, begs to differ. In an op-ed for the Post-Dispatch, he argues that the savings from shorter school weeks are often minimal. He contends that there are better ways to retain teachers than sending the kids home on Thursday afternoon for a 3-day weekend.
Cornell notes the best way to retain teachers is to have less paperwork, less micro-managing, more support for innovation and creativity, and more independence. Let district teachers be the professionals they are.
Teachers aren’t so enamored with the extra day off. In fact, the teachers’ strikes we have witnessed in several states have involved complaints of overcrowded classrooms, reduced pay and shortened work weeks producing more unruly kids whose attention spans have shortened.
Of course, the best way to let school kids be kids is to give them that extra day off. Studies of 4-day weeks in Colorado show spikes in juvenile crime, especially crimes against property, which have jumped noticeably on Thursday nights.
What’s next in education innovation? Three-day school weeks? Is this the way to make America great again?