WESTBORO - The buses are buzzing, the kids are marching, and parents are exhaling. Unmistakably, school is back. "Yeah, we're excited," said one parent in Westboro.
We're all getting back into the routine with a soft landing. Labor Day means a four-day school week. But what if they were all this way? "I'd love it. I'd support it, 100%," said another.
It's happening a lot more than you may think. In 26 states, some 900 districts consisting of roughly 2,100 schools are already using the four-day model. Dr. Dale Herl's is one of them.
"This is the most excited I've been in my entire career to start a school year," said Herl, the superintendent of the Independence, Missouri school district.
Just east of Kansas City, Independence is roughly the size of Brockton, with more than 14,000 students. This will be the first week of the four-day model, which Dr. Herl refers to as a "flexible calendar."
"This was 100% driven by the desire to attract and retain the very best staff," he says.
Missouri is just one state facing a critical teacher shortage. Dr. Herl says once the change was made, applications went up more than four-fold. Those Mondays off won't go to waste either. Herl's team will offer professional development, remedial lessons, AP lessons and childcare.
"Parents will actually pay $25 less than last year, so they're getting more care for less cost," he said.
So, could it work in Massachusetts? We contacted DESE for comment. It said districts make their own schedules, so long as they meet state requirements of 180 days of classes and 900 or 990 hours of instruction, depending on the grade.
We crunched the numbers on why it's unlikely to happen here. If kids here had a four-day week, in order to meet the state requirement, they'd be going to school for 45 weeks a year. That means summer break could only be four weeks long.
"We see big drops in student achievement happening when these four-day school weeks are brought into practice," added Paul Thompson, Associate Professor at Oregon State University. He's been studying the four-day model for years. He says smaller, rural districts made the switch for budgetary reasons. They may have saved money, but it's come at a high cost.
"This is really shifting the burden of things like childcare, food provision, physical education, physical activity that mostly happens within school environment and shifting this on to families and communities one day a week," he said.
Thompson did say if schools maintain their hours of instruction by lengthening the school day, they can mitigate those negative achievement trends. Independence is doing that, and also offering meals to kids on those Mondays off.
Still, DESE told WBZ it's unaware of any discussions for the change. Hence, for now, it is class dismissed on the idea of a four-day school week in Massachusetts.
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