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Opinion: Who is the 4-day school week really helping in Independence? Not students or parents.

There’s been a lot of chatter about the new 4-day school week system adopted by the Independence School District this year. While I am not here to make a formal judgment on its merits only a few months in, I have increasingly heard from constituents who are displeased with the system, and want to express their concerns as they have been relayed to me and reported in the news.

Naturally, the problem highlighted is that fifth day. In rural communities where the 4-day plan was first popularized, it makes financial sense for most families. An extra day off school means extra hands around the family farm or business. It means less commuting time and easier scheduling for traveling school events, such as away sports games or other extra curricular competitions (where most students would be out of the classroom anyway). But for suburban communities, the scenarios are different. Many households are single-parent or have two working parents who cannot stay home with their children on a weekday. Now, a 4-day school week means paying for child care or a babysitter. 

Additionally, the argument is that a 4-day week cuts costs for the school district, but this seems marginal. If we are extending school hours for the remaining four days of the week, we’re still paying staff for essentially the same amount of time. Most building costs are a flat rate, regardless of how many days a week the building is in use. I’d have to see more data on this, but I’m not convinced we’re saving taxpayer dollars by shortening the academic week.

Teacher recruitment is another core tenant of why the district has adopted this system, which, on the surface, makes sense. We’ve seen that districts switching to a 4-day week see initial recruitment go up. However, this often comes at the cost of poaching from neighboring districts and is short-sighted logic. Soon, this motivation will have fulfilled its purpose—either because we no longer have spots to fill, or because other districts also switch to a 4-day week, and the recruiting advantage is nullified. 

Ultimately, the main advertised arguments in favor of this shortened week don’t seem to include the most important aspect of education: the students. My concern is that the long-term effects of this 4-day system will hurt students’ academic futures. It’s been reported that student test scores suffer—especially in math and language arts—in comparison to those in a traditional 5-day academic week, and that the extra time off is not often spent engaging in educationally enriching activities. I am also worried this imbalance with the 5-day work week will create an unsustainable financial burden on working parents, which will then lead to yet another government program paid for with more taxes.

My goal is not to balk at attempts to improve our schools. However, I am wary from all the feedback and research I’ve received that this plan may do more harm than good. I hope we can ensure that Independence’s students are aptly prepared for their post-graduation ambitions.