The four-day school week (5×8 – 4/12/12)


Can 36 minutes a day make up for eliminating an entire school day? Burnsville may be about to find out, the Star Tribune reports today. The school district, in an attempt to cut its budget, may join some other school districts in shortening the school year, and have four-day weeks every other week.

A few other districts in the state have adopted a similar plan but Burnsville would be the largest and a couple of parents in the article are upset. People work for a living in Burnsville and who takes care of the kids in the off days?

A school board organization says parents will adapt. A superintendent in another district where it’s being tried says other relatives usually take care of kids there.

The school officials say it’ll comply with state law, parents are talking about who takes care of the kids, but nobody seems to be addressing a fundamental question: Does 36 minutes of education a day make up for one less day of education a week?

I’m not a big fan of newspaper website comments, but this is one story where you can get a good preview of upcoming school board meetings.

There’s one side:

So we are consistently behind other countries in academic performance and we want to shorten the week? To save money? Why don’t we NOT pay former administrative employees 250,000 dollars just to leave and instead invest more money in our students and their educators to put the US back in the place it belongs?

And there’s the other…

“That’s ridiculous if you work full time,” said Joy Smetanka, who has three children in the district. “Every other Monday? I wouldn’t do that.” — School is NOT day care. It is for education. You make it through summers just fine (presumably) so I expect you can make arrangments, even if it’s inconvenient. That said, this problem probably wouldn’t exist if politicians kept their grubby hands of money for education.

And, at least at last check, there isn’t a single comment regarding the impact on the quality of education or the way students learn. Oh, and there’s nothing about eliminating cherished high school sports.

Tampa just considered this question, and looked into the effects of the decision. In a 131-page report, researchers found nothing but bad…

Regardless, the cost cutting would bring no documented gains in student achievement, but would burden working parents with extra day-care costs and law enforcement with more crime. Sheriff’s Office statistics showed a potential jump of 5,000 calls for service annually that could be attributed to a four-day school week. The agency said it could need five additional deputies to respond to calls about juvenile disturbances, noise, suspicious activity, petit theft, criminal mischief and burglar alarms. In other words, trying to balance the school budget would add strain to the county government budget.

But some school districts in Georgia are thrilled with the money they’ve saved. Teachers kept their jobs. The burden fell on school bus drivers and cafeteria workers. And in Washington state, at least one official found a four-day week improves teacher morale.

Discussion point: How would you handle the change in your school district?


iPad owners got a bit of a reprieve from the guilt that may have came with the This American Life look at life inside the factory in China that makes them, when Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz blew the whistle on that report. This week, Schmitz got a look for himself inside Foxconn and, absent the drama of the TAL piece, described a scene and a work life that could make iPad owners feel guilty if it were an American operation.

It’s late afternoon. Tens of thousands of workers stream out of the factory gates. Xiong Yefei walks slower than the others. She’s two months pregnant. It’s been a long day — her job is to clean iPad components with an alcohol solution; she says the fumes make her sick.

Xiong Yefei: A supervisor told me the fumes wouldn’t harm the baby, but I’d still like to be transferred to another part of the line. When I asked my supervisors, they said no. And now they’re making me work the night shift.

Xiong starts to cry. She says another pregnant woman on her line asked for a transfer and got it, why couldn’t she? The other woman, she says, was her supervisor.


There was another attempt this year in the Minnesota Legislature, are elsewhere, to require drug test for people who get welfare benefits.

Charlie Quimby, who writes the Across the Great Divide Blog (intelligent debate doesn’t get any better than when he and libertarian Craig Westover consider issues together), has been researching this in Colorado and in his latest post, it’s clear that we may not know who people on welfare are in the first place:

Welfare recipients are more likely to have significant physical or mental issues than they are to have serious drug issues. (A drug test indicates use, remember, not impairment, abuse or dependence.) One study found 19% of recipients had suffered from at least one of four psychiatric disorders (major depression, agoraphobia, panic attack and generalized anxiety disorders) within the previous year. One quarter of the adults receiving TANF aid in Colorado have one or more disabilities, according to the state. About 92% of the adult TANF recipients in this county are either single mothers or the head of their household.

Quimby also says, “If you’re on a moral crusade, believe 20% of poor people are dope fiends and are bad at math, you might like placing drug testing as another hurdle before they receive help from the taxpayers. If you know welfare has already been turned into a work program and think smoking a reefer in the last six weeks shouldn’t disqualify adults with kids from getting help through a rough patch, then you’re likely to see drug testing as an unnecessary indignity.”

The majority of welfare recipients in Minnesota, the Forest Lake Times says, are working at very low-income jobs, have serious health problems, are new mothers or are recently unemployed.


The smoking ban in Minnesota may be expanding slightly. A bill at the Legislature would prohibit smoking in the home if there’s a foster child living there.

“There’s always going to be that lifelong smoker that thinks it’s an invasion of their privacy,” said Randy Ruth, president of the Minnesota Foster Care Association, tells the Duluth News Tribune. His wife had cared for foster children for more than 40 years. “Personally, I would not object to it because I’m a lifelong nonsmoker.”


Now that more phone carriers are getting rid of “unlimited data,” you probably should know what a megabyte is.

Bonus I: Sometimes the things you think are ugly aren’t.

Bonus II: Marilyn Hagerty is back from rubbing elbows with the beautiful people of New York, which means a welcome return to writing about the food offerings of the Grand Forks area. Today: Free peanuts at Texas Roadhouse! If you thought Olive Garden was great….

Bonus III: To be a woman in Pakistan. Abuse, shame, and survival.


Prosecutors in Florida have announced that they are charging George Zimmerman with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Today’s Question: What do you think of the authorities’ handling of the Trayvon Martin case?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Young voters in 2012.

Second hour: Why do we place less value on male friendships?

Third hour: Marion Nestle on ‘Why Calories Count’

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Jonah Lehrer, speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California about his book which is now the #1 New York Times best-seller. “Imagine” is about the science of creativity. Is it a gift, or can it be learned?

Talk of the Nation (1-3 p.m.) – First hour: TBA

Second hour: Spouses negotiating retirement.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – This weekend, Freddie King will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. If you haven’t heard of him, you probably have heard his influence on generations of famous guitarists. He was an inspiration to Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Jeff Beck, and many others. NPR profiles the late guitar great.

A lot of Minnesota chefs are experimenting with savory uses of grains you might be more used to seeing at the breakfast table. Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl tells Tom Crann more and brings in recipes.

  • My blog partner played a Freddie King clip from the same show, and neither of us could get over that butterfly collar. 70s fashion – gotta love it.

    About the four-day school week – what works for increasing student achievement is more school, not less. What works is effective teachers, not ones who have lost their passion (that means getting rid of bad teachers and keeping good ones – regardless of tenure). More people should watch the documentary Waiting for Superman

    As for how I would handle the change in my school district – because Minnesota has school choice, I’d send my kids to another school district.

  • I don’t know–I am in favor of more hours of education, not less. But budgets are tight.

    I think the hassle to parents to have to arrange schedules where they work 5 days a week but their children only go to school for 4 are also a strike against the idea.

  • The good thing about shortening the school week… kids spending another day with their family. Of course that won’t be happening for every family, but clearly there will be more of it happening.

  • BenCh

    I think it really reflects on what we value as important when we are willing to cut school hours to save money. I have seen the quality of students who have high school degrees and even made it into college and it is depressing. Most people won’t notice since their exposure to education was with their class when they graduated. It would be a great documentary or show to go through schools from middle to college to see what kids learn and what they remember/have learned. Every assignment I grade and I see “alot” I correct it, and months into the semester I am still correcting it.

    On Welfare:

    If people are so concerned about people using taxpayer money for drugs/alcohol, why don’t we drug test congress? They get a lot more per person from taxpayers, and yet we don’t test them and they are suppose to be serving our country.

  • Kate G.

    I am recently married, and when my husband and I talk about kids and where they would go to school, we both think the best option would be all day, and year round school. Besides the benefits to their education of year round, all day school, there is a huge financial benefit to us. Our friends with young children have found that the cost of day care is so expensive that some are actually considering leaving their jobs to stay home. That is simply not an option for us. If I lived in that school district, I would definitely send my kids somewhere else–or move. When are we going to start prioritizing education again in this state???

  • Another thing to keep in mind about education: private schools spend less per pupil than public schools, and yet the kids in private schools have higher test scores. In other words – it’s not the money. There is something else wrong with our public schools and I must once again pimp Waiting for Superman, which is probably the most important documentary on American education ever made.

  • Kassie

    Schools are daycare. There is no way around that.

    Drug Testing for Welfare: There is a lot more that goes into the argument against drug testing than who cares of someone smoked one joint. When you cut someone off welfare because they are a drug user, you also cut off their children. That means losing eligibility to many things including possibly public housing, free and reduced lunches, free after school activities, child care, and more. Also, it may keep an adult seeking help away from the system. Many people seek public assistance because they are entering rehab. If they come back with a dirty urine test, they will lose the funds that are keeping their family off the streets. It will be better for them to be a functioning addict than homeless.

    And as for who is on welfare, yes, many have disabilities. Many have undiagnosed mental health problems. But, many are just like any of us who hit a bad patch. While working in the welfare office I worked with people from all walks of life. People with Doctorates, former executives, lots of self-employed people, college students, bartenders, and an older woman who spoke a language that less than 100 people in the world spoke and didn’t even know how to hold the pen to make her X on the application.

  • MikeB

    Kudos to NewsCut for bringing up the salient point about the impact on kids’ education from moving to a new schedule. News judgement matters, we don’t have enough of it.

    Re: welfare – too many want it to hurt bad to receive payments. Punishment as a value. It’s worked so well, hasn’t it?

  • David

    “Does 36 minutes of education a day make up for one less day of education a week?”

    It’s really one less day every two weeks, right?

    I’ve noticed that in conversations I’ve had with people that like the shorter school week, or any method to save money in the schools, is that they also tend to want to extend the school year to a year-around system.

    It’s an interesting cognitive dissonance. I can’t even begin to imagine the costs associated with year-around school: insurance, maintenance, utilities, salaries, adding AC to all the old schools. Seems to me the number would be huge.

  • Hello all,

    First off, I was completely against the four-day week to start with. Now I am a complete supporter of the four-day week because it is better for kids, families and staff.

    Not all school districts go to a four-day week because of money. My school district did not do it for money, but because the change was in the best interest of students. Many districts have gone to the four-day week because of some things other than money:

    1. Teacher attendance percentages increase. Teachers are the key to student learning, and having the regular classroom teacher in the room instead of a substitute teacher is better for kids. In Oakridge, OR, the number of available work hours missed by teachers decreased significantly (21.8%) after the move to a four-day school week. This was a significant decrease in time of when the regular teacher was present.

    2. Student attendance typically increases – more at the high school level than at the elementary school level.

    3. Parents have found that the elimination of half days for students (typically because of teacher work days, curriculum days, grading days, inservice days, etc) has made finding child care easier. That is a paradox, but parents have found that it is easier to find child care on Fridays than on the plethora of half days that typically occur with the five-day week. On a five-day week schools often send kids home so that teachers can do necesary but non-teaching tasks. On a four-day week you bring teachers in on Friday, and don’t have to send the kids home. The consistency of a four-day week is a very strong attribute.

    4. Student seat hours can increase, if that is the desire of the district. By eliminating all of the non teaching activities on Fridays (lunch time, passing periods, transportation time, recess) and increasing the hours on the Monday through Thursday you actually increase learning time by students. Also, you need to have four days of school every week, so if there is a holiday on a Monday you go to school Tuesday through Friday.

    5. Student discipline decreases, and student engagement increases.

    6. Teacher vitality and morale increases tremendously.

    We went to the four-day week three years ago, and I was orginally against the idea. We adopted for a two year trial period and everyone, including the parents, love it. It is now a regular part of our functioning, and we have some of the highest performing schools in the state.

    Academic achievement, especially at the high school level skyrocketed! We have had a tremendous growth in math, writing and reading scores. It is a fact that the four-day week has been shown to improve scholastic achievement, or, at worse, academic achievement stayed the same when they moved to a four-day week.

    Remember, I was against this idea in the beginning. I read the research, reviewed the data that was available, had meetings with stakeholders (parents; staff; students; Board members; community leaders; city government) and decided it was a good fit for us.

    And we did it because it is an improvement over the hit and miss of a five-day week.

    I have no horse in this race, except the improvement of public education. I would suggest you google my interview on NBC Nightly News, or check out the website.

    Don’t let nostalgia for an antiquated tradition cloud your mind – take a few minutes and read about the four-day week and get the facts.


    I self-published a book (paid for it out of my own pocket) on this topic and rural gifted education (or, lack thereof!). Check them out – you will find them enlightening. I do not make any money off of the books, and am part of a group called Kor-Education that is trying to improve public education. That is my personal long-term goal.

    Thanks, and email me if you have any questions or would like to learn more.

    Don Kordosky, Ed.D., Superintendent, Oakridge Schools

  • Kim E

    “It will be better for them to be a functioning addict than homeless.”

    Kassie- I totally agree with your point. I also worry about what would happen to people who are truly addicted and need CD treatment if they weren’t able to get public assistance benefits. I don’t think this denial would magically make them quit using, as the proponents of this law may believe. Addiction is a powerful pull. I fear that these people would turn to more harmful and unsafe ways to get their fix and put themselves in dangerous situations.

    Also, I appreciate your perspective on this blog, from one social service worker to another! 🙂 You have often explained the system much more clearly and thorougly than I would be able to.

  • Jeff

    Year-round school doesn’t equal more hours in the classroom. It means that they have 3-week long breaks in November and February, and all of August off. In other words, the kids have a lot of time off when there aren’t summer camps or the other things that kids do during long vacations when their parents are at work. At least that is how it works in St. Paul.

  • kennedy

    Our neighborhood school offers before/after school day care for a fee. A Friday without school would be a revenue opportunity for the school. They could charge money for the kids to be there. In our neighborhood it would be that, or latch key kids. Cutting back on classroom learning opportunities is not a recipe for student success.

  • Vjacobsen


    Is it possible those kids in private schools had higher test scores because they came from advantaged families? It sure is a lot easier to learn if you don’t face hunger or homelessness every day.

    Which brings up a good point- what about those kids who don’t eat unless it’s at school? They have to fend for themselves one day?

    Some things are more important than money.

  • @Vjacobsen –

    No. For one thing, not all kids attending private schools are from upper-income families. My children, for example, don’t have rich parents. Just parents who gave a damn and were willing to make sacrifices so they could have a quality education.

    For another, kids attending charter schools in some of the worst school districts in the country have better test scores. These are poor, inner-city charter schools, and yet the kids have achieved academic success. See Waiting for Superman for more information – and everyone is in luck because the film has been posted on youtube.

  • vjacobsen


    It still takes a decent amount of expendable income to be able to pay for private schools. We can’t afford to, no matter what sacrifices we make, and I resent the assertion that all it takes is giving a damn.

    And yes, while some charter schools have better tests scores, you’re painting a very, very broad picture that’s distorts the truth. There are some that do well, some that are terrible, and some that do OK. And I have seen Waiting for Superman, and I know it’s only part of the story.

    My daughter goes to the neighborhood school with the kids whose parents don’t–what would you say? Don’t give a damn? Or wait…they’re just ethically diverse and most are poor enough to qualify for free lunch. But I would rather fight like heck to keep our schools awesome than pull her and send her away to a safe little fortress, because I think we all deserve a great education. But I grew up poor too (and my parents gave a damn, for the record)…so I’m a little biased.

  • @Vjaobsen –

    And I resent your assertions… for the record.

    First, I wasn’t discussing all charter schools, just pointing out that some charter schools in very poor communities have high test scores – showing that income levels are not the sole reason kids have high or low test scores.

    Nor was I saying my children have the only parents who give a damn. Considering my support for a film that documents a number of parents giving a damn, I would think, at least to someone who has also seen the film, that it would be obvious I realize many parents do. But, sadly, there are also parents who don’t care about their children’s education. Perhaps they’re the “ethically [sic] diverse” parents of which you spoke?

    “A safe little fortress?” I find this little bit of snark from you to be quite telling. It’s as though you’re angry at me for making different educational decisions for my children than you made for yours. There are more important things than money?! No kidding! I’ve disregarded my savings account to educate my kids. I’m sorry you’re offended so much. God forbid a poor woman send her kids to a private school! How dare I?!

    But mostly I’m offended that you seemingly think only the rich can achieve academic success. Biased, indeed. Good day.

  • David G

    “Another thing to keep in mind about education: private schools spend less per pupil than public schools, and yet the kids in private schools have higher test scores.”

    You know something else about private schools? You won’t find many special needs students in them, or ESL students.

    It does wonders lowering the cost of education when you don’t have to accommodate students with physical or learning disabilities, or behavioral issues, or poor english skills.