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February 24,2024: What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, is it?

Posted Date: 02/24/2024

February 24,2024: What's good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, is it?

Superintendent’s Blog

February 2024: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Or, is it?”

In last month’s edition of the Superintendent Blog, I discussed calendar options and some things that must be considered when schools adopt a calendar that best meets the district’s values and needs. At Hudson ISD, our approach must never shift from doing what is in the best interest of our students. We are an ‘independent school district’, and like others, that means we have ‘some’ local control, including being able to choose what works best for our students and our community. I concluded last month’s blog with an indication that discussing the newest trend of the four-day schedule could be a topic I’d like to cover. So, let’s do it!

Let me be clear and not wait to say that I am mostly against this latest trend. I do not believe, with research to support my belief, that this type of schedule is best for most students. Sure, there are a few who could manage just fine, but our decisions should not be based on just a handful of potentially successful individuals. So, why is this newest trend growing, and am I 100% against it? From the first sentence of this paragraph, I’m not 100% against it, but let me explain.

There is a huge teacher shortage in our country that continues to show no improvement. As professionals, I believe that educators do not earn an income high enough for the amount of work, time, and dedication it takes, and the value they have on our society. Two years ago, Governor Abbott ordered the establishment of a task force to study and report findings regarding the negative trends of educator employment. The initial task force had little to no opinion from the teachers themselves. With much pushback and public embarrassment, the task force was later altered to include at least 50% teachers. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to figure out our biggest problem. We, as a society, do not value those who work with our most precious commodity…our kids. More recently, everyone knows that there are billions (with a ‘B’) of needed dollars that would not be released to Texas schools unless the governor received and approved of a ‘voucher’ (AKA Educational Savings Accounts) plan for public monies to fund private schools. Since that plan was not supported, money that schools desperately need is simply ‘left on the table’. Once again, the perception among Texas teachers is that they are NOT valued. Teachers need more income, they need more support, they need more help, but it’s clear that valuing our educational system is the ‘steam needed to drive the train’. With that said, let me get back on track (no pun intended).

Many schools are facing a significant teacher shortage. One method used to help recruit teachers is by offering a shortened workweek. While this does not cut down on the total amount of real-time work (in fact, it can actually add some time), the idea of a three-day weekend is quite appealing. Over the last several years, there has been much research on the effects of this trend. While this may help initial recruitment, pulling teachers away from neighboring districts for employment, it would serve no purpose if every district did the same. That is because there is no research to prove this helps add new teachers into the system, only robbing one district to serve another. But is it all bad? Maybe not under certain conditions. If a district only has 50% of the teacher workforce filled by qualified individuals and relies on substitutes and overcrowded conditions to satisfy the load, consideration of an altered work week could be necessary. Is it good for kids? No, but neither is the other option.

To date, there is no sound research to show that a 4-day schedule is academically better for kids. In fact, we find just the opposite (some slight, some moderate). I know of one school district that touted improvement in STAAR scores since they began operating with a modified weekly schedule. And it is true! But what they failed to say is that their comparative districts on a 5-day schedule also improved…and at a higher rate.

Here are a few other factors that one must consider, and I’ll try to keep them brief:

  •  Longer school days: To meet state guidelines regarding instruction, time must be added to the school day. Fatigue and attention span are already an issue, and this will certainly increase, especially with our youngest students. Students would still have homework and likely more of it due to increased levels of material covered each day. This would be on top of the longer day. (I’ll just say that education is vitally important, but kids need to be kids at home too.) Many students already stay late after school for remediation and extracurricular activities.
  •  Schools already struggle to provide special services necessary for students with various disabilities. There is a huge concern regarding the impact on this fragile population.
  •  While I stated this could positively impact teacher shortages for a time, let's not forget that 50% of school employees are not teachers. Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc., would only be needed four days a week and take a 20% cut in annual income. The teacher shortage has now become a shortage among this group, as they are already our lowest-paid personnel. (And let me tell you…finding bus drivers now is extremely difficult. If you are interested, please reach out!!)
  •  Since I just mentioned cutting income, you may be thinking of overall cost savings to districts. There have been no significant findings regarding overall savings for districts that operate under a four-day week. A whole other paragraph is needed to provide the explanation for this. But just for a taste, running an air-conditioner is most expensive in the afternoon between 3:00-5:00. Adding an hour at the end of the day for four days would likely consume more costs than running a full day on a regular schedule.
  •  Childcare issues: Need I say more? Some would have no problems. Many would struggle.
  •  Impact on learning: The truth is ‘academic slide’ is real. When students are out of school for a period of time, they tend to regress.
  •  Teacher workload: Yes, they may have a three-day weekend, but the planning for longer days, more daily instruction, and likely more daily grading could lead to a heavier workload and then potentially impact the quality of instruction.
  •  Inequity in education: There are concerns that a 4-day week might disproportionately affect students from low-income families. These students may have fewer resources and opportunities outside of school, making the extra day off more challenging for them.
  • Child nutrition: Regardless of your income and resources, we must not forget that a significant number of students rely on the school lunch/breakfast programs. Whether you believe it or not, there are children who only eat food at school because there is little to no food at home. Taking this away just for one day per week could be detrimental.
  •  Abuse: While it saddens us all, abuse happens way more than we think. It is highly likely that improperly supervised children will experience an increase in sexual abuse and neglect.  Crime rate: National studies show that unsupervised youth will likely lead to higher crime rates and rates of other inappropriate activities.
  • Work expectations: Our general working world is a 5-7 day work week for most Americans. If we are expected to prepare students for life after high school, are we truly preparing them for success?

What is good for one community may not be good for another. Believe me, in the most selfish way, I would love to have a three-day weekend every weekend. Who wouldn’t? However, I’m responsible for making decisions and leading a district based on what is best for children…all children. Let us not forget our mission and why we are educators. And I’ll close by reiterating the ranting third paragraph. Our teachers devote their lives to the children of our community. They deserve to be respected and valued. Please reach out to just one teacher today. Lift them up for the work they do.

May God bless you all,

Donny Webb, Superintendent