The XX Factor

Race to the Cheapest

Rural districts in some states first turned to a 4-day school week during the 1970s, when the cost of running the buses skyrocketed. This time, the WSJ reported , it’s not just gas money. Districts are adopting or considering the shortened week to save on hourly staff payments and utilities. But even the Department of Education in Colorado (a state where a third of the 178 school districts operate on a 4-day-a-week calendar) says the “jury is still out on the question of student performance.” But Colorado-and Georgia, another state that supports a 4-day week-are both finalists in the “Race to the Top” competition , which will award cash grants to states with innovative plans for school reform. The obvious question is: How does an untested strategy that many experts argue risks weakening students’ classroom achievement constitute “educational reform?”

One possible answer is that the districts with the shortened school weeks aren’t participating in the reform efforts . Another is that states and districts are confident that the shortened weeks aren’t affecting student or teacher performance. But the most likely answer is that-like so many things in the world of education-the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, and since the plans submitted to the competition didn’t mention length of school week, it wasn’t considered. It should be. With so many districts trying it out, and principals touting its benefits, the 4-day week should be put to the same test as any of the innovative strategies competing for Race to the Top funds. Does it contribute to ” substantial gains in student achievement, closing achievement gaps, improving high school graduation rates and ensuring student preparation for success in college and careers “?

And if it does, why, as one Minnesota blogger asked , don’t even the wealthiest school districts want to seize the savings?

Photograph by Comstock/Getty Images.