The Keystone Oaks School District made headlines across the state earlier this year when appealing to the Pennsylvania Department of Education to consider approving a four-day school week. K.O. however is no longer moving ahead on this initiative alone as other districts in the commonwealth have signed on to weigh the pros and cons of such an unconventional idea. The four-day week is unconventional by definition because of the more than 12,000 school districts across the United States, less than 200 are operating on such a schedule. As time ticks down to the start of another school year the Pittsburgh High Schools Examiner looks to answer the question of whether Pennsylvania districts are on the verge of changing the educational landscape in America to a more efficient/cost-effective way, or if desperation is setting in as the priorities of the elected officials are further from the values of the people than they have ever been in light of the historically large funding cuts districts across the state are dealing with.
Of the four districts in Pennsylvania currently evaluating the practicality of a four-day school week, two are local (Keystone Oaks and Apollo-Ridge). Other school districts equally or even more so financially strapped such as Woodland Hills have also discussed the idea at school board meetings but have made no formal plan or announcement to pursue the concept. The premise is simple; reduce the number of total days and extend the length of the school days remaining. In other words, reduce the number of days the district is required to transport students to school and from school, cook lunches, turn on utilities, employ non-certified staff, etc. Keystone Oaks for example would eliminate Mondays from its current schedule and extend the length of the school day Tuesday through Friday by 35 minutes. Apollo-Ridge would be looking at a similar scenario running on a Monday-Thursday schedule.
Across the state, the Coatesville Area School District outside of Hershey, with a population of about 13,000, is deliberating on the possibility of reducing the number of days from 180 to 154, extending the school days remaining by 45 and 90 minutes respectively. The figures they project in savings at nearly $2 million are higher than that of local districts but the general consensus by most is that financial relief is a certainty. The Warren County School District in Northwestern Pennsylvania agrees that a reduced week allows for a more efficient budget and preserves curriculum and staff the expense of being cut. Like Keystone Oaks, Warren seeks to eliminate Mondays from the schedule where most federal holidays fall, allowing less disruption to the new shorter school week.
Among the pros referenced are:
- Significant savings in operation and transportation expenses
- Preservation of curriculum in light of continued reductions in funding
- Anticipated increases in attendance by teachers & students
- Increased student morale
Among the concerns expressed are:
- Potential drops in student achievement
- Childcare during the extra days off
- Extracurricular activities
- Red tape with unions
Much debate still exists on how the quality of education would be affected as well as the amount being received. For high school students in Keystone Oaks, with a 7:45 AM -2:36 PM schedule, students are currently in school for 31 hours and 45 minutes during a typical 5-day week. Under the newly proposed schedule, by only adding 35 minutes to the remaining 4 days the total is reduced to 26 hours and 44 minutes per week. Officials from K.O. and other districts around Pennsylvania will spend the coming school year weighing in on such details while the Pennsylvania Department of Education must now consider whether or not it is willing to hold schools to an hourly requirement instead of a daily one. Governor Corbett asked Pennsylvania school districts to propose new and creative ways to save money upon the release of his budget for the coming year and his response to this proposal will surely shed some additional light on how important education is or is not to his term agenda which is only in the beginning stages.