Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
There’s been a fair amount of discussion lately about our public school systems, namely how many (or how few) days or hours per week children should be in school.
According to The Chicago Tribune, the Illinois House “has sent to the Senate a bill that would allow local school board to adopt a four-day week.” The main reasoning for this seems to be budget concerns. Cutting a full day out of the school schedule could save a school board a lot of money, even just in terms of the cost to run buses that cart students to and from school.
Whenever something like this is proposed, opinions seem to be mixed. A lot of people’s first reaction tends to be that this is a bad idea. Our public schools are struggling enough as it is to give the children of our nation the education they need. Cutting a day out of the schedule can only hinder the effort more.
Other people &- especially the children that could be affected, but several educated people as well &- argue that we push children hard enough as it is, and if we push too hard we’re just going to burn them out, resulting in lower grades and higher drop-out rates.
Illinois would be far from the first to implement such a schedule. The aforementioned Tribune editorial notes that 19 other states have at least one four-day-week school district.
It’s important to note that fewer days in school does not necessarily mean fewer hours. Schools could (and do) have longer school days on the days that classes are scheduled.
This means schools can still save money by turning off the heat or not running the cafeteria on one extra day per week, but students would still have the same or similar amount of hours spent in classes.
But some people argue that if anything, children need to spend more time in school. Mike Feinburg, co-founder of the Knowledge Is Power Program, contributed a column on CNN.com that cites reasoning for keeping children in school longer every day and even going to school on more days per month. His KIPP Academy in Houston ran from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., had Saturday classes twice a month and mandated at least three weeks of summer school.
This wasn’t cheap &- Feinburg states such measures cost an additional $1,100 to $1,500 per student &- but the school went on to become the highest performing public middle school in Houston.
Feinburg certainly makes some good points, citing for instance that China’s students spend 300 more hours in school than America’s students, and their schools run for 41 more days per year. It’s easy to wonder whether we want our children competing with that sort of rigorous education system, considering how poor of a job we seem to be doing lately.
However, there was something Feinburg said early on in his column that gave me pause: “I know there is no substitute for the hours a student spends with an effective and inspiring teacher.”
Yes, this is no doubt true. I’ve spent time outside of class here at Tech with professors that I’ve found enlightening and inspiring, and I definitely benefited from the extra time with them. However, I think the bigger problem is not all of our teachers are “effective and inspiring.” If our students aren’t performing as well as they can with the resources they’ve been given, I’m not convinced extra time is enough to change that.
Don’t get me wrong, something certainly needs to be done, and maybe tacking extra class time onto students’ schedules would be a step in the right direction. But maybe we should worry about other aspects of our school system first. If students hate the five-day weeksthey already endure, they’re not exactly going to be inspired by the idea of going to school every other Saturday.