The four-day school week: one local school’s experience
With all of the discussion about the four-day week, I thought I would provide some experiences from Bakersfield’s first year on this schedule.
First, teacher morale was not our reason for the four-day week. It was a nice by-product, but not the reason. Our teachers work hard and support each other in serving the students. Teachers here realize they could go elsewhere and make more money, but they are committed to their home community, and that is why they stay no matter what schedule we are on.
Teacher recruitment and retention in hard-to-staff content areas was one of the reasons, but that, in no way, diminishes the talent in our local teaching pool. Finding teachers who are certified in vocational, higher-level math, science and foreign languages is tough! If we had a large local-candidate pool in these areas, teacher recruitment would be a non-issue.
The four-day week has proven to be a tool to allow teachers to do a better job. I can assure you that on Mondays, our teachers are not staying in bed until noon and watching soap operas all day! They are planning lessons and grading papers, gathering supplies for experiments, looking for grants, sponsoring club activities and taking care of appointments for themselves and their families so they don’t have to have a sub when students are in class. The four-day week increase in morale is simply a by-product of having more time to do a better job in all areas. The teachers feel it. The kids feel it. I see it.
I argue that we have better instruction, deeper learning with longer classes and a greater commitment to attendance with the four-day week. With more time in each class for hands-on activities, kids who may not like school have better attention and seem to be better prepared to give more effort. Our discipline referrals are down 32 percent. Anytime you have a substitute teacher in the classroom, learning suffers, but with the four-day week our student and staff attendance rates are up. Teachers are taking fewer days off, so another positive by-product is that our sub costs are down 58 percent.
The four-day week has allowed our high school kids to do a host of other things that used to take away class time. College visits, vocational post-secondary visits, job shadowing, internships and working are all things high school kids can do on Monday that they used to miss class time to do. With the four-day week, we are very intentional about instructional time, and reducing the amount of time kids are out of the classroom for these trips is very helpful.
Like others, I shared concerns about students’ food insecurity. Last year we added a supper program. Supper is free to all students, and there are no forms to fill out. With this grant, we can provide three meals per day. Additionally, for students on the backpack program, we pack food for three days. With these efforts, we have addressed the food desert concern.
Although we have not been through a full year of the four-day week yet, we have been monitoring curriculum and mastery through the year. Teachers have spent a lot of time reconfiguring their curriculum to fit the four-day week. We have monitored progress throughout the year and fully anticipate an increase in student mastery of skills. If the four-day week had an inverse effect on student learning, I would be the first to advocate that we go back to a five-day calendar. However, as the student learning data come in that we are tracking, it is trending that the four-day week is on track to boost student learning.
The four-day week results in a savings of approximately 2 percent. The savings can be used to fund local programs for students. In addition, Bakersfield is committed to using a portion of the savings to reduce the burden on taxpayers by pre-paying on the bonds for the high school. We do not take community support for granted and work to be good stewards of the trust placed in us.
The needs of each school and community are different. Bakersfield has a high population of “boiler maker” families. The boiler maker profession encompass several trades in the construction industry, and these folks work out of town for long periods of time. When they come home, they enjoy having that extra day with their kids. The other parent generally works locally or stays at home.
The four-day week was a good fit in Bakersfield. It may or may not be a good fit elsewhere. Each school must weigh the positives and negatives and make an informed decision. In Bakersfield, the positives outweighed the negatives by a landslide. If we can be more innovative in our approach to meeting the needs of all learners, why would we not give it a shot? I’m glad we did. (See page 5 for a related story on the four-day week.)