There are a lot of strong feelings about how the calendar should be structured, based on the number of people who attended and made comments at last week’s school calendar meeting.
This is to be expected; there is nothing more important to parents than the well-being of their children. And the calendar committee is wise to have set aside two evenings to hear from community members and parents, as well as sending out a survey seeking input. The survey asks parents whether they prefer a traditional five-day week or a hybrid schedule that gives students every other Friday afternoon off.
The calendar committee – composed of teachers, administrators, community members and board members – is no longer considering a four-day school week. In introducing the survey, the district noted that evidence of declining academic performance caused by a four-day week is so strong that eight states have prohibited districts from moving to an abbreviated week. That alone should have made the four-day week a nonstarter.
Both coaches and Buffalo High School Activities Director Ryan Mader said that reducing student absences by scheduling activities on Fridays was an impossibility. Because other 3A schools are on a five-day week, BHS would not be able to schedule all games and activities on Fridays.
Beyond that, adding an hour to 90 minutes to each day would mean some middle and high school students wouldn’t finish practice until nearly 9 p.m., effectively creating an 13-hour day for the students. Those long days aren’t just tiresome, they are detrimental. Some research has shown that the mechanism for declining academic performance is not just lost instructional time but students’ inability to focus as the day wears on.
Any promises of enrichment programs or remedial instruction on the nonschool day of the week should be met with ample skepticism. Anecdotally, Kaycee Schools experience with “Focus Fridays” should illustrate what these programs become: canceled. But qualitative data also show that these programs, though often promised, are “sparsely used,” according to research by Paul N. Thompson published by the Institute of Labor Economics.
In last week’s public comment period, many parents spoke passionately in favor of a four-day week. Parents offered emotional appeals, including a desire to let kids recharge their batteries over a long weekend or to reduce the number of Fridays that high school students can miss to attend activities. Their desires are well placed.
Yet, the decision about how to structure the school calendar must be guided by strong evidence and research – not feelings or wishes.
In this case, the preponderance of evidence indicates that a move to a four-day week would be detrimental to student achievement, and that should be the only thing that matters.
Whether deciding on a calendar or a curriculum, the goal for every school board trustee must be creating conditions that foster student success – for all students.
The district will host another public comment opportunity at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11 at Cloud Peak Elementary School.