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Shorter school weeks in Klamath Falls?

April 12, 2010

There’s a report in the paper that the Klamath Falls (Oregon) School District is considering  shortening the school week as a cost-cutting measure.  This is only one of the proposals being considered, but if it is adopted, students in the district would attend schools Monday through Thursday, only. The rationale is this would save roughly $6.3M over the course of the year.

Now, of course, you can’t just drop a day out of the school week.  So, the plan is to lengthen the remaining four days to ensure they can still meet Oregon State’s hourly requirements.

Teachers have already commented that this really won’t appreciably affect their workload.  Classified support staff are already concerned because it will mean nearly 400 employees will have a day less of work a week.

Ok, so, what constituency is totally missing in this article I read:  nowhere does it say anything about impact on students, on their learning.  Also, it doesn’t say much about the impact on parents who now have to plan to have kids home one full day each week. The net effect there is working parents will have to find a way to stay home with their kids for that time, put them in daycare/child care and/or there’ll be more latch key kids.

But as far as student learning is concerned, arbitrarily lengthening the school day may not be the right thing to do, particularly for the youngest students.  If 7 hours need to be redistributed to the remaining four hours in the shortened week, students will be in school roughly 2 hours longer every day.  It may not seem like much, but there is only so much you can cram into a young head at once.  And, what about the impact on things beyond school that kids would be doing after the end of a “normal” school day? When would sports happen?  How about homework?  And, then there’s just the “end of the day” routine that families need to go through like coming home, getting dinner on the table, possible chores or other activities.

For some kids, it may not mean much of a daily impact — those that are in before/after care anyway.  Instead of activity time or study time at the local YMCA or other after-care program/provider, they’re just in school longer, but there’s no downtime for them now.

There will be proponents that will say, “Great! We need more learning time in the classroom so days SHOULD be longer,” but that logic just doesn’t hold up. Iif we go with the conventional data and studeis that shows a good deal of classroom time is lost anyway because of classroom discipline and student behavior issues, we’ll just lose more of that to the lengthened day.  Losing 20% of a 8 hour day, on average, means we’re losing 2 hours out of each day — in other words, essentially those extra hours that we have to tack on to make the “mandated hours” work. (Yes, I know we’d be losing them over the course of a 5-day school week anyway, but a longer day is also prone to less quality time anyway due to student fatigue and loss of attention span.)

Well, you might say we could give the students more or longer breaks — again, sounds like a good idea but then we have to make up for that additional time somewhere. So, to accommodate “breaks” we insert another 1/2 hour or so into the day — now kids are there for 8.5 hours, in which really only 6 hours or so (best case) is actually available for learning.

My point in this is, while on the surface it sounds like shortening the school week sounds like a reasonable plan, my guess is not all the ramifications have been considered. We have a history of that in the school system where we just look at the immediate problem — the need to cut budget — without really looking into what the other impacts might be.  One way to restore active budget to the schools is reducing absenteeism (I don’t know if this is a problem for Klamath Falls, but it is in many areas) or reducing the money lost on teacher attrition, even increasing productivity in the classroom. THAT, in and of itself, can save an average school district MILLIONS and it’s not ever something that is considered or at least it never appears in the press or in school reports.

As readers of this blog know, I tend to have a pretty simple approach whenever someone proposes a solution:  I always lead with the question, “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”  And if student learning has to suffer, the proposed “solution” isn’t really much of a solution at all. There are better and easier ways to save money — money that’s already in the system, — and with better outcomes for everyone, including teachers, classified staff, support staff…oh, yeah…and the students, too. THAT is a “solution.”

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