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Creating a School Week that Works
posted by: Alix | August 22, 2011, 03:52 PM   

One of the most debated aspects of school reform has been the issue of the traditional school schedule. Last fall, President Obama made headlines for advocating for a longer school day. Others argue a year-round environment is the best fit. While everyone has an opinion about the ideal schedule, budget shortfalls have forced a number of districts to shorten their school week, raising more questions about the perfect balance between length of school day and quality programs and curriculum.

One rural district in Irene, South Dakota is the latest school system to switch to a four-day school week. Opting to phase out Friday classes, the 300-student school district considers shortening the week the best option for combating budget shortfalls from dried-up stimulus funding. As a result, the district will save nearly $50,000 per school year, funding that will go toward preserving a popular vocational education program for their students.

This fall, nearly one-fourth of South Dakota's districts will move to some form of the abbreviated four-day schedule, making the state second only to Colorado and Wyoming having a larger proportion of schools using a shortened week. This system is catching on as more than 120 school districts in 20 states, most in the rural West, now taking advantage of a four-day weeks according to a recent study.

While this shortened week may sound outrageous to educators who teach in urban environments, the rural schools insist that reducing class time is a better alternative, and can be accomplished without sacrificing quality curriculum in the days they are in class. The district plans on adding an extra 30 minutes to each day and shortening the lunch break to provide more class time to make up for the lost Friday.

Ironically, the change to a four-day week among rural communities comes as large, urban districts are instituting just the opposite. In Chicago, school officials hope to add school days to the year and increase instruction time during the current five-day system.

Advocates for the longer day insist that obviously with longer days students will have more time in the classroom, but also will be kept off the streets during the times students in inner cities might be more likely to get into trouble.

Supporters of the four-day schedule among rural communities insist that while less time is not always ideal, the system can work for students. "We feel they'll get the same instruction. It'll have to be done a little bit differently," said Superintendent Larry Johnke of the South Dakota district.

Many schools are searching for ideal schedules during difficult economic times, and the needs of their community. Obviously what works in Chicago might not work for rural communities in South Dakota and Colorado with differing cultures and economies.

What do you think is the ideal school week/year for your school?
Comment below.

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