Tradition! at school

Don’t equate members of the District 51 school board with Tevye, the patriarch from “Fiddler on the Roof,” who embraced tradition for tradition’s sake.

The school board members had valid reasons — beyond tradition — for their preliminary decision last week to reject a four-day school week for the district and stick with some variation of the traditional five-day week.

The primary reason to consider a four-day week, of course, is money. District 51, like every school district in the state, is facing the prospect of still more cuts in state funding — cuts in the millions of dollars. So the possibility of carving up to $2 million out of the budget by shortening the school week is nothing to sneer at.

Even so, it is neither an educational nor an economic panacea. Research conducted at Indiana University has shown that in districts that have gone to four-day weeks, savings are often not as great as anticipated. Meanwhile, it creates additional burdens on working parents, and the longer school days may be difficult for younger students. And four-day weeks have primarily been tested in small, rural districts, not mid-sized ones such as District 51.

But the biggest caveat to the four-day week is what it will do to academic achievement. Simply put, there is little research to suggest it improves achievement, and some indication it may do harm. One fear is that students will retain less when they have three-day weekends than with the traditional two days.

As District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz notes on the facing page, in nations with highly successful school systems, students attend classes 40 to 60 days more each year than their counterparts in the United States. We need to be adding class days, not cutting them, even if that feels impossible with the economy on its back.

The school board left the door open to switching to a four-day calendar if the budget cuts from the state prove to be more severe than currently anticipated. We hope that doesn’t occur and that the district sticks with the current, five-day school week.


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