Attitudes toward homework in the United States have gone back and forth throughout history. In the mid-19th century, when organized education in this country was in its infancy, most students only went to school through sixth grade. Their lives were agrarian and their home life was consumed by chores. Homework was nonexistent, except for the privileged minority whose education continued into their teen years.
As life for Americans became more industrial and urban, more children went to high school and beyond. Homework was rigorous. Schools believed the brain was a muscle and became stronger with exercise. Then in 1900, homework was called a “national crime at the feet of American parents." Ladies’ Home Journal pushed to abolish it. Physicians were concerned it was bad for students' health because it deprived them of essential fresh air and sunshine. Some states banned homework for some or all grades.
When Russia launched Sputnik in 1957, the nation feared it was falling behind its rival. Schools pushed for more stringent homework and tougher standards for students. The Cold War and the Space Race combined to put intense pressure on students.
Schools around the world continue to debate and experiment with the effectiveness of homework. In 2014, a Quebec elementary school completely banned it. The Los Angeles School District decreed that homework could count for no more than 10% of a student’s grade. Finland, one of the world's most successful education systems, assigns very little.
So, should your school be assigning homework? Let's look at the debate from multiple angles.
While the debate over whether students really benefit from a shorter school week rages on, it's apparent that the trend isn't going away anytime soon. In an effort to gain more insight into the pros and cons, the CreditDonkey team has assembled a list of the 23 most interesting statistics surrounding the four-day school week.
Countries around the world have long touted the benefits of the four-day workweek and in the U.S., that same principal is being applied to education. First adopted in the 1930s, when the country was in the throes of the Great Depression, the four-day school week saw a resurgence during the energy crisis of the 1970s. Today, the four-day plan has spread to a number of states across the country, and the idea continues to gain ground as school districts battle tight budgets.
- Nearly half of the U.S. offers the 4-day school week option
The number of states that offer the four-day option has been climbing steadily over the past couple of decades. There are currently 21 states which feature schools that are actively operating on a four-day system.
- Four-day system is growing
The four-day trend is concentrated primarily among more rural communities, but it's catching on in other places. Nearly 300 school districts across the country allow students to attend just four days a week.
- Small percentage of students are actually affected
By and large, the number of students who attend school on a four-day schedule is a mere fraction of the total number of school-age children in the U.S. The majority of the districts that offer four-day schooling serve, on average, less than 1,000 students.
- Some states have the policy but don't enforce it
In addition to the 21 states that have four-day school weeks in effect, there are several more that have the appropriate guidelines in place but don't use them. Seven states, including Pennsylvania and Arkansas, allow four-day weeks but schools there have yet to put the measure into practice.
- A four-day school week doesn't mean less classroom time
One of the misconceptions surrounding four-day school weeks is that it costs students valuable instruction time. However, that's not the case. In districts where students are limited to four classroom days, the school day is simply extended by 60 to 90 minutes.
- What students experience in other countries
Over the past few decades, it's become apparent that students in the U.S. are lagging academically compared to students in other parts of the world. While the four-day school week is gaining steam here at home, students in other countries are spending 25% to 30% more time in the classroom on average.
- The promise of big savings is often what motivates the switch
Schools in underfunded areas are often hard-pressed to find creative ways to keep their budgets in check, and the four-day school week system is highly touted as an effective way to save money. On average, the maximum total amount schools can shave off their spending annually is 5.43%.
- The total amount schools save is usually much lower
While schools do have the potential to trim millions of dollars from their budgets each year by moving to a four-day week, it doesn't always work out that way. The actual savings amount usually varies from 0.4% to 2.5% in the districts that have made the change.
- Location may play a part in how much spending dips
Where a particular school district is located may determine to some extent how much money can actually be saved by implementing a four-day week. In 2011, for instance, Minnesota's North Branch district saved $123,000, which seems like chump change compared to the $7 million in spending cuts realized by Duval County, Florida.
- Transportation is the biggest savings
Maintenance, oil and fuel for a fleet of school buses doesn't come cheap, and that's not counting the cost of hiring people to drive them. While the actual cost varies from one district to another, it's estimated that schools could save as much as 20% on this one expense alone by shrinking the school week.
- Administration costs aren't far behind
Moving to a four-day schedule also has a significant effect on how much schools are required to spend on administrative and support services. It's estimated that schools could trim these expenses by 18.9% and 17.6% respectively as a result of shortening their schedule.
- Energy bills also see a decline
While schools remain open on the fifth day when students are off, they're not using as much electricity and water as they are the rest of the week. In fact, moving to a four-day week could result in energy bills that are as much as 10% to 15% percent lower.
- Teacher pay and benefits remain largely unchanged
On average, teacher salaries and benefits account for 65% of all education spending. Transitioning to a four-day school week has little effect on this budget category, however, since teachers are still expected to maintain a five-day work schedule.
- Hourly workers take the biggest hit
Bus drivers, cafeteria employees and custodians typically see the most negative effects from switching to a four-day week. If they're not able to make up their hours, they risk seeing their paychecks shrink by as much as 20%.
- Some expenses aren't impacted at all
There are three specific spending categories that are not affected at all by a shorter school schedule. This includes instructional staff services, which adds up to 5% of public education expenditures, general administrative costs, which is another 2%, and enterprise operations, which make up less than 0.25% of spending.
- Not everyone is on board
The concept of a four-day school week is appealing from an economic perspective, but plenty of parents still have their doubts about its effectiveness. In the past, only 25% of adults have said they favor the idea, with those living in suburban areas the most vocal in their support.
- Some parents may see their costs increase
For working parents, the four-day school week often presents more problems than solutions as they scramble to find suitable childcare for the extra day off. For one Minnesota school district, it was estimated that a shorter schedule would cost families an extra $600 per year in childcare expenses.
- It may improve attendance
Giving kids a longer weekend may increase their motivation to get to class when they're supposed to. One district in Montana reported a 19% improvement in attendance after going from a five-day schedule to a four-day school week.
- Some states also report a boost academically
In some school districts where test scores have been historically low, the introduction of a four-day week has led to a dramatic improvement in student achievement. Overall, a shorter school schedule resulted in a 7% increase in math scores and a 3% gain in reading.
- Five-day schools still have the edge in many districts
Despite the fact that many districts have seen their test scores make a substantial leap, there are some five-day schools that are still outpacing them academically. In South Dakota, for example, schools that operate on a five-day schedule generated math test scores ranging from 2.4% to 29.6% higher than their four-day counterparts.
- Younger students may benefit the most
While some have argued that a longer school day is tougher on younger students, evidence suggests that it may increase their thinking abilities. A Missouri school district that moved to a four-day school week saw math scores rise by 7.6% for third graders, compared to a 12% drop among fourth grade students.
- College-bound students see fewer rewards
One of the most stressful parts of heading off to high school is taking college entrance exams. In terms of how well students perform on the ACT after switching to a four-day school week, composite scores at one Missouri school actually decreased by 0.7 of a point.
- Although it may mean a break from so much homework
In 2013, elementary students spent an average of 2.9 hours per night on homework, slightly less than the 3.5 hours assigned to those in high school. One of the upsides of the four-day school week is that teachers are more likely to hold off on assigning heavy homework loads on weeknights, opting to extend due dates over the longer weekend instead.
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