My five-day school week orthodoxy and/or bias


It’s not going to happen. I’ll never be convinced that the four-day school week, implemented for budgetary and not learning reasons, is good for kids.

I received a note from a school administrator, working in a four-day week school, calling me out for my The Four-Day School Week is Failure Triumphant Minnesota 2020 Journal column. It was a direct communication rather than a “Your Take” letter to the editor post so I’ll respect the writer’s privacy.

In a nutshell, the administrator confronts my critical presumption that the four-day school week is, on its surface, bad policy, challenging me to provide data for my conclusions. Well, he has me there but that’s an issue that I raised in my column. “Comparative student performance data are absent because nobody wants to risk kids’ education just for the sake of determining if a four-day school is worse than a five-day school week.”

There’s no more data supporting the four-day school week than data exist opposing it. Thus, basing substantive instructional change on the “there’s no negative data” argument just plain gives me the heebie-jeebies.

In rural communities, travel distance and low population density complicates K-12 education. As a school bus riding kid, we had it pretty good because our farm is two and a half miles from town on the county tar. Some of my schoolmates rode the bus for 45 minutes though and this was in the 1970s. Westbrook-Walnut Grove Schools are still busing kids and while the bus makes fewer stops due to fewer students, the distance from the north end of Johnsonville Township to the high school in Westbrook remains 20+ miles, gravel roads, circuitous routes and changing buses in Walnut Grove not included.

As a state, we shouldn’t shrug our shoulders and walk away. The answer involves adequate base educational funding but also additional transportation funds necessary to get kids to school within a reasonable time period.

So, yes, a handful of western state school districts use the four-day school week due to great ranch to school distance but many, many more school districts in equally low population density areas find a way to make the five-day week work.

Contemplating my five-day school week orthodoxy and reflecting on the administrator’s letter, I’m still struck by the poor financial health profile of communities embracing or considering the four-day week model. In other words, wealthy communities — the Stillwaters, Minnetonkas, Wayzatas and Eden Prairies — of Minnesota aren’t remotely interested in a four-day week. The same can be said of private schools Blake, Cretin-Derham, St. Paul Academy and DeLaSalle.

I worry that the five-day school will become a luxury of the secure. Moving Minnesota forward, realizing growth and prosperity, requires advance not retreat. So far, no one has convinced me, either with data or rhetorical persuasion, that the four-day week improves K12 education where it counts most: kids’ futures and families’ lives.