In the summer, our school district’s central office moves to a 4-10 work week (4 days a week for 10 hours) to save energy and give employees longer weekends, an idea that originated during the 1970’s energy crisis. Some schools have tried a similar schedule during the school year, in which children go to school four days a week instead of five days. As a parent and a teacher, I like this idea in order to give familes personal time. As an environmentalist, it makes sense to cut down on energy use and transportation costs with such an alternative schedule.
Approximately 100 rural schools in the United States have adopted a four day a week school schedule, mostly to save fuel costs where buses travel up to 100 miles a day. Districts are reporting up to a ten percent savings on fuel and four percent savings on facilities energy use. I know from personal experience on our district’s budget committee that transportation is the largest expenditure in the entire budget (more than teacher’s salaries, etc.)
Saving fuel and energy is a great idea for strapped school districts, but states mandate the amount of minutes and sometimes days that children must attend school. A four day a week calendar means longer days for students to meet these minimum requirements. For the littlest ones, this is a concern from a developmental perspective. For oldest ones, the long day means not much is accomplished during the last hour of the day when fatigue and boredom set in.
In Custer, South Dakota, Superintendent Tim Creal says the school has saved an estimated one million dollars since they switched their calendar eight years ago. He believes children benefit, as they get more instructional time. In contrast, Lake Arthur School District went back to a five-day a week schedule after 12 years on the alternative calendar. Superintendent Michael Grossman says that two studies failed to show any academic improvement, because children were too tired by the end of the day. Other districts have demonstrated improved student attendance with a shorter week schedule.
I am not opposed to a longer school day if children are not assigned homework during the week. Homework has not been show to increase children’s learning, and if the school day was longer, there would be absolutely no time for this extra, busy work. Some parents have expressed concern for finding childcare on the fifth day when their child would normally be attending school, but as more businesses and states move to a four day work week, this will become a moot point. Of course, homeschooling may just be the most energy efficient way to educate your child.