School officials in districts across the country are moving to three-day weekends in order to battle budget constraints.
Nearly 300 districts operated on a four-day school week last year, with several additional districts making the move this year, and more contemplating the move for 2013.
Cutting an instruction day allows schools to trim transportation, janitorial, and utility costs. The Chattooga County School District in Georgia, for instance, reported annual savings of nearly $800,000 after switching to a four-day school week in 2010. But the shorter week requires students to power through longer days when they are in school in order to meet minimum class time requirements set by states.
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U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has spoken out against four-day weeks, and school boards in several states have shot down attempts in their districts to move to shorter school weeks. Critics of the shorter week argue high school students should spend more days in school to prepare themselves for college and the workforce. But teachers and administrators immersed in the schedule say students are more focused while in school thanks to the three-day weekend, and the free day allows high schoolers to intern or enroll in college courses.
"I think the kids are more attentive [in class]. And they know that there's not as much downtime, so we've got to get in there and do it," Elanor Brown, a now-retired robotics teacher at Chattooga High School, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in May.
Student absences and discipline problems are down under the new schedule, as well, according to the Times Free Press, which reports disciplinary write-ups for high school students dropped from 1,344 in 2008 to just 375 in 2011.
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Having a day free for doctors' appointments and college visits helps keep bodies in class, experts say. It also cuts out absences for student athletes traveling for school-sponsored sporting events, says Theresa Hamilton, director of districtwide services at Garfield School District No. Re-2 in Colorado.
Students and coaches at the district's high schools missed anywhere from a few hours to a full day of school for athletic travel before the switch to a four-day week this fall, Hamilton says, noting the district chose to close on Fridays in part because travel for sporting events was most common on Fridays.
"I've actually heard this from students; if they're an athlete, they like the fact that they're not missing class on Friday," Hamilton says.
Day care is typically not at an issue for students at the high school level, and parents in the rural Colorado farming community say they appreciate having their teens home to help with chores and look after younger children, she says. The district is also working with the local Chamber of Commerce to develop an internship program, which they will roll out to high school students in a few weeks, Hamilton adds.
It will "let them have a full day, instead of a couple of hours after school, to work with a business, get their hands dirty in that business—figure out if that's really what they want to do in college … and give them those opportunities to develop a craft for when they get out of high school," she says.
Officials at the Waco Community School District in Iowa similarly hope students will use their free day to intern, volunteer, or take college courses if the district transitions to a shorter school week next year. The state's Department of Education approved the district's proposal for a four-day week this summer.
While the plan still needs a final stamp of approval from the school board, which will take up the issue in December, some parents are already keen on the idea.
"I'm hoping he can get some college credit … He can get a jump start on that, so I'm excited about it," Cinda Blake, whose son is a sophomore at Waco High School, told the Cedar Rapids Gazette earlier this month.
But not all students use the free day as school officials intend. One teen from North Branch Public Schools in Minnesota told the Washington Post last year that he spends the day sleeping in and playing video games.
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