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A debate is growing regarding how much time students should be in school. Some schools are adding time while others are cutting it.
More research is need on the issue, and the focus must be on what’s best for our future generations.
Many schools and districts across the country are switching to four-day school weeks, including 66 districts in Texas during the 2022-2023 school year. Teachers associations say the shorter schedules ease the burden on overworked teachers and districts cite cost savings from keeping campuses closed one more day.
Others, however, advocate for longer school days and even year-round schooling. Some educators note that students forget significant amounts of information during long summer breaks, while many parents, particularly those who work, complain about cost of childcare services and the difficulty in keeping children occupied in constructive activities. During the 2021-2022 school year, 46 Texas school districts had year-round classes, according to the Texas Education Agency.
Both sides make strong arguments. School policies, however, must place students’ needs over the preferences of both school staff and parents.
Certainly, the adults’ needs can’t be ignored or even discounted. Schools already are grossly understaffed and the need to attract and retain teachers is a major consideration. Raising salaries seems the most popular strategy for attracting new teachers, but those who leave the profession often cite stress, heavy burdens and other working conditions as the primary reason for their departure — not salaries.
At the same time, many families strain to make ends meet and childcare expenses can be a significant burden, especially in low-income areas such as the Rio Grande Valley. Parents who must work but can’t afford childcare often leave their children with friends, family or neighbors, but if those options aren’t available they could feel forced to leave their children at home unattended. The National Institutes of Health reports latchkey children not only face safety risks, but can suffer emotional or mental issues caused by isolation, loneliness and boredom.
Retention of information, and time lost to catching students up to pre-summer levels, lead many people to favor more time in the classroom. A 2007 Massachusetts Department of Education study determined that extending school days by 25% improved student test scores by 5% to 10%. Individual school districts, however, have said they didn’t see the same improvements.
However, some mental health experts say young children’s minds often aren’t developed sufficiently to handle the amount of information presented in many classes. This especially is seen in arguments about the benefits or drawbacks regarding having full-day or half-day sessions for preschoolers and lower grades.
To be sure, more research is needed to help determine the most beneficial strategies regarding class times, and people should remember that different students thrive under different conditions.
As that information is gathered, however, educators, parents and policymakers must understand that the students’ needs come first.