Marion County, Florida is the most recent district to announce plans to cut its weekly school schedule to 4 days (they have a lot of company). Starting next fall, in 2012, schools will add 75 minutes to each of the four week days to meet the state’s required annual instructional hours. The move is an attempt to make up for the $24 million that will be cut from the district’s operating budget.
Pennywise, pound foolish.
Marion is a middling central Florida county, not at the bottom of any lists of income, employment or educational achievement, but also far from the top. As a district it has about 40,000 students, 20 percent of whom are living below the poverty line (median family income is roughly $38,000). Unemployment hovers at around 13 percent. Last year, only 50 percent of Marion’s 8th graders were reading on grade level (65 percent on grade level in math, and 40 percent in science). All this to say that Marion can’t really afford to cut a day of school out of the week, a move that will surely limit learning for its kids (there is no evidence that schools can effectively squeeze 5 days of learning into 4, and plenty to suggest that television and video games will become that extra day’s entertainment), and will likely create additional hardship for working families (does the county have a child-care plan for that extra day?).
Back to the savings. The district projects it will save about $4.5 million, mostly on water, energy and transportation costs, by shortening the week. That estimate, which amounts to less than 1 percent of the total budget, is probably about right based on a recent ECS analysis of 4-day week savings, which found that the 4-day week can save a district up to 2.5 percent of its operating budget (after reviewing six districts it found savings between .4 and 2.5). Savings, according to ECS, is mostly on operations and maintenance costs (a little less on transportation, which is often required for extracurriculars on the “off” day). So $4.5 million sounds like a lot. But is it worth it? No way. It saves nothing on instructional staff costs (the most expensive budget item) and almost guarantees worse outcomes and certainly bigger achievement gaps over time. It’s also less than twenty percent of the overall cuts required, which means the oft-cited choice between cutting people and cutting time is not really applicable here (it will have to do both or find other ways to move money).
So, to Marion and other districts considering the 4 day week, don’t do it. It may bring some immediate relief but your kids and your county will pay double for it down the line.
ECS and the National Center for Time & Learning just released a report on national and state trends in reforming the calendar, which includes some great alternatives to the 4-day week. Pdf here.