By Philip Baillargeon
You wake up on a Friday morning before the crack of dawn, as you usually do. And you go back to bed. Why? Well, there’s no school today. This has its advantages, for sure. You can get more rest after a school week, savoring three days to do more fun activities, and still do homework late Sunday night. But when finals roll around, you might not feel nearly as prepared as you deserve to be. How can you compete with students in private schools who paid their way into a longer school day?
This is the reality in Oklahoma, a state suffering from crippling tax cuts which force schools to close for a three day weekend every school week. This system, that began as a way to save money in the 1930’s during the Great Depression and came back into style after the Great Recession of the late 2000’s, has become increasingly popular in rural districts with low funds.
Some schools try to make up for the lost time by adding 60 to 90 minutes to the end of the school day, but this is especially worrisome for younger kids. Six-year-old children, by and large, don’t have the attention span to endure that long of a school day.
And when they’re done with the week, most don’t have parents who can stay home and watch over them during that day in the regular work week. As a result, minimal staff members are hired to watch over the kids in their school. No learning goes on this day; they usually watch movies or play games outside for the regular school day until they can go home. It’s even worse for those who can’t afford the extra cost for this childcare.
Some kids don’t eat at all during those three day weekends because they rely on welfare support to eat regular school lunches. Independent food banks have sent care packages to many afflicted families, but fixing this problem statewide is going to take a lot more public funding.
Not only are kids struggling with this schedule, but teachers have been upset by this change as well. They’re making less money, for the average teacher in Oklahoma makes $42,460. That’s right, some unskilled labor jobs pay marginally more than being a teacher in Oklahoma would. Also, the job has gotten more difficult in the past few years as the salary continues to decrease.
Class sizes are up to 26 or 27 kids per classroom while the legal limit is actually only 20 students. Test scores for students hover around slightly above average for the first couple four day school weeks, then start declining once students have had the schedule for multiple weeks.
There have been studies linking juvenile crime to shorter school weeks, citing that less structured time leads teenagers to destroy property in the neighborhood out of sheer boredom. And for teachers who live in the community, this does not help house values for those trying to sell what they have to get out of state.
But, some kids do like extra time spent with their families. And some parents enjoy more time with their kids. It all depends on perspective in this new system of four day school weeks.