Following two years of many teachers working from home, citing coronavirus, some school districts will resume school this month with only four days of instruction per week, citing the inability to find teachers who want to work full-time.
Twenty-seven school districts in Texas will move from a five- to a four-day week this year in order to attract teachers, the Star-Telegram reported. Other districts across the country are doing the same, such as in Missouri (where a local paper called it a “terrible idea“), Montana, and Idaho.
It could come at the expense of children’s academics, at a time when academic performance is abysmal and children are especially far behind because of the lack of in-person school during the coronavirus pandemic.
While the schedule makes life more pleasant for teachers, it also comes at the expense of parents who will have to find and pay for childcare for one day a week — which could be logistically impossible for daycare providers, since everyone in a town would be seeking care for just that day.
Teachers’ unions enraged parents across the country, and especially in liberal states, in the last two years by refusing to return to work, citing coronavirus, even though the CDC determined that teachers were at less risk than the average person, and children were at very little risk. Parents wondered whether the educational establishment was essentially giving up on the idea that the government must provide school, and whether teachers unions intended to use the pandemic to seek permanent changes.
Now, some teachers don’t seem to want to come back full-time, spurring the four-day switch. “In the last year, we are seeing more news that districts are adopting the schedule to improve teacher recruitment and retention,” Emily Morton, a researcher at the Northwest Evaluation Association, told the Star-Telegram.
A RAND Corporation study found that a four-day week saved less than 5%, so the move would not be a financial one, so much as it is to appease teachers.
The idea that teachers would willingly take steps that could reduce student learning is at odds with teachers union marketing that positions teachers as advocates for children.
In Texas, on average, school districts extended the school day for “nearly an hour” to partially, but not completely, make up for the missing day.
“If the district is adopting the schedule because they feel they need to do so to recruit teachers or to improve school climate, they may be willing to make that choice even if it means test scores could decrease by a little,” Morton said.
A 2021 study of schools in Oregon and Oklahoma, co-authored by Paul Thompson, a researcher at Oregon State University, found that math scores decreased by 6% and reading scores by 4% after districts switched to four-day weeks, according to the Star-Telegram.
Some school districts also may extend the school day by adopting early-morning start times that studies have suggested are bad for children. At the Athens school district, which bills itself prominently as “Home of the Four-Day Instructional Week,” students must be in school by 7:10 a.m.
Just as the pandemic closures disproportionately affected impoverished students who were left at home, the same can be expected for children who may be left in less-than-positive environments for one day a week. A study in Colorado found that four-day school weeks corresponded with increased juvenile delinquency.
Elana Fishbein, a social worker who now leads the activist group No Left Turn In Education, said the move is a giveaway to teachers at the expense of “children, families, and the economy.”
Child care “is a cost that many families, particularly poor-middle class won’t be able to afford, especially in this economy,” she told The Daily Wire. “So many of them might be roaming the streets or spending their day playing on electronic devices.”
She said ending social justice policies like “restorative justice” that create a lawless atmosphere in classrooms, with teachers exposed to insubordination and violence, would do more to improve teachers’ working conditions.
Other school districts have teacher shortages with days to go before the new school year, even as they are hiring social workers to focus on students’ emotions.