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Schools Nationwide Cutting Down to 4 Days a Week, Because Wealthy Refuse to Pay Fair Share

The GOP's anti-tax attitude and budget cuts mean some states are closing schools on Fridays, leaving parents, workers and students in the lurch.

I doubt there's any student in the world who would object to having Fridays off. But when it comes to policy, the increasing number of American schools moving to a four-day week is not necessarily news to jump for joy about. In fact, it's potentially devastating for parents, school workers and students all left in the lurch by budget cuts. And it's happening more and more, as state and local budgets shrink to tiny levels and raising taxes on the wealthy is somehow considered verboten.

This anti-school thinking is evidenced by the fact that a leading right-wing businessman wrote an op-ed yesterday in which he questioned his taxes going toward the existence of a Department of Education. "Do we really need an energy department or an education department at all?" the American Enterprise Institute's Harvey Golub wrote in the Wall Street Journal, while arguing, contra Warren Buffet, that taxes for the ultra-rich not be raised.

We need more revenue for education, Harvey. Just ask the growing group of parents who are stuck with their young school-age children on Mondays or Fridays because the schools can't even afford to open that day.

The Associated Press reports that the Irene-Wakonda School District in South Dakota is the latest to move to the four-day week, bringing the state close to having one-fourth of its districts on the reduced schedule.

“It got down to monetary reasons more than anything else,’’ Superintendent Larry Johnke said. The $50,000 savings will preserve a vocational education program that otherwise would have been scrapped.

The four-day school week is an increasingly visible example of the impact of state budget problems on rural education. This fall, fully one-fourth of South Dakota’s districts will have moved to some form of the abbreviated schedule. Only Colorado and Wyoming have a larger proportion of schools using a shortened week. According to one study, more than 120 school districts in 20 states, most in the west, now use four-day weeks.

The AP notes that while district officials are quick to tout the fact that there's no recorded difference in standardized testing and so on for the schools with the four-day schedule, "parents aren't convinced." 

Last year, the  Wall Street Journal ran a big feature on the movement toward shorter school weeks as well, including a map showing at least 16 states where the policy is allowed, including Colorado, Wyoming, Georgia and South Dakota. The piece's author found that no conclusive data could be pinpointed explaining where test scores go when Friday classes disappear.

But education advocates expressed grave concern, saying teachers had to fight to keep students focused during the newly longer days, and Randi Weingarten of the AFT noted that implementing reforms and new ideas was more difficult with the four-day week.

To be fair to energetic local educators, there are some advantages in a reduced-day schedule, particularly for older students in rural areas with long commutes, according to this 2010 piece in USA Today and this 2008  Time Magazine piece on the growing trend in rural districts from Maine to New York to Georgia to the Southwest, and even Hawaii. The practice can allow teachers more time to prepare and students more time to rest. Going to doctors' appointments, helping out around the family farm, and other reasons to skip school may lessen in frequency. And the remaining school days will by necessity be longer and involve more tutoring and activities, which could motivate students.

But it certainly isn't a cure-all for budget woes. Educators from other districts where the experiment has been tried have also said it was hard to keep up the pace of the curriculum and some have eventually abandoned the schedule, saying it wasn't worth the money "saved."

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