Months after New Mexico officials put the brakes on a four-day school week, a PBS correspondent visited the Cobre Consolidated School District (CCSD), which just finished its first year with an abbreviated schedule.
The district initially chopped Fridays off its traditional five-day week to save money. But some officials, including former teacher and state Sen. Howie Morales (D-Silver City), had serious questions about the program, so they threatened to cut off funding at public schools who tried to switch to a shortened week.
Among administrators, educators, parents and students, reviews of the program were very mixed. On one hand, it means parents, students and teachers don’t have to face long commutes as many times each week, and a day off means more time for other activities. But the switch seems to have a minimal impact on the district’s budget, while forcing parents to stay home or find care for their children on this extra day off.
School districts around the country are switching, or thinking of switching, to the four-day week model, and it’s not because they want to. As of May, 25 states had at least one school district operating on a four-day week schedule, with many getting rid of the fifth day due to budget constraints. In tight budget times, a four-day school week was seen as a helping hand in saving money, but so far, there hasn’t been much consensus on its effects.
There are arguments on both sides of the issue. In addition to eliminating long commutes on one day, districts can hold sports or club activities instead on Fridays, if that's the day they drop. CCSD Superintendent Robert Mendoza told PBS that a shorter week has lowered absenteeism rates. On top of that, New Mexico — which continues to struggle recruiting and retaining teachers — apparently did not have any trouble hiring teachers for this past school year after the week was shortened, Mendoza said.
But officials looked to make the change because of budgets, and the average savings from the switch is miniscule — it ranges from 0.4% to 2.5%, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And it’s less time for learning. To make up for fewer days in class, students spend more time in school the four days they’re there and have shorter breaks. But in CCSD, that’s still 22 fewer days in the classroom each year, PBS reported.
Parents also have to figure out what to do with their children if they have an extra day off, especially In high-poverty states like New Mexico, With so much competing information about the effects of a four-day week on schools, students and others involved, as Morales argued, it might be better to hold off on the plan until some of these large-scale questions get answered and it’s clear whether this plan will help or hurt the districts that are considering it.