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Massachusetts District Eyes Four-Day School Week

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

At a time when many school systems are looking to expand learning time, a small Massachusetts district is looking to move in the opposite direction, at least when it comes to how many days of instruction students receive each week. The district's superintendent is mulling a switch to a four-day school week as a means to achieving financial sustainability, reports The Recorder newspaper of Greenfield, Mass—a step some other, mostly rural districts, have recently taken.

Michael Buoniconti, the superintendent of the 1,100-student Mohawk Trail regional district in western Massachusetts, plans to ask the local school board for permission to take a closer look at the feasibility of a shorter week. According to The Recorder, he believes the switch could save on transportation and utility costs.

In his interview with The Recorder, Buoniconti also said that in other districts that made the change, overall staff attendance went up, which led to a reduction in costs for substitute teachers.

The state requires schools to provide at least 990 hours of academic time to middle and high school students each year, and 900 hours to elementary students. To meet these requirements in a shorter weeek, the district would have to add about 90 minutes to each school day. Massachusetts also mandates that the school year must be at least 180 days long, which means that the request might also involve special legislation for the district to meet the time requirements in less than 180 days.

Apparently, the fifth school day in the Massachusetts district wouldn't entirely be put out to pasture in the district, though. Every other week, that day would be used for professional development, according to Buoniconti's plan.

Budgetary concerns are a common lure to shorten the school week, as Kathy Christie of the Education Commission of the States explained to me for my previous story on four-day school weeks. Districts typically view the condensed schedule as a way to reduce busing and utility costs, especially rural districts.

However, Christie stressed that cost-saving is not a good reason to make the switch, because calculations of the savings produced have shown them to be minimal. Additionally, any educational value of the extra time added to each day meant to account for the lost day of instruction hasn't been looked at in-depth. Most research is anecdotal in this area.

Meanwhile, a report from Indiana University finds no strong evidence that a four-day week has either a positive or negative effect on achievement.

The Massachusetts district's proposal comes at a time when many districts and states are extending learning time, rather than condensing it. Beginning next fall, for example, schools in Washington State must provide at least 1,080 hours annually of class time at the secondary level, up from 1,000 currently. This could lead to up to a 15 minute increase in each school day.

Also, Iowa is considering creating a $1 million pilot program to extend learning time at schools.

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