What this school district learned from a 4-day week
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What this school district learned from a 4-day week

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s back to school season
around the country, which makes it a good time to look at a trend under way in many
school districts. Many of them have switched from a five-day
week to four days, particularly in Western states. In Colorado, for example, more than half of
all districts now follow a four-day week, in New Mexico, around 40 percent. But officials in New Mexico have placed a
moratorium on the practice because of their concerns about the impact. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza with
our partner Education Week visited New Mexico to see a school district that just completed
its first year of the change for weekly segment Making the Grade. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Alexis Parela and Michael
Lazano’s reactions to the shortened week couldn’t be more different. ALEXIS PARELA, Student: When I heard that
this was moving from five to four, I was like, yes! MICHAEL LAZANO, STUDENT: I kind of don’t like
it a little bit, because I just really want to learn about things. KAVITHA CARDOZA: A year ago, Cobre Consolidated
School District moved to a four-day week to save money. Now on Fridays, schools are closed. Overall, students spend 22 fewer days in class,
even though they have longer days and shortened breaks. Superintendent Robert Mendoza says 90 percent
of parents agreed with the change. ROBERT MENDOZA, Superintendent, Cobre Consolidated
School District: Overall, it’s been real positive. KAVITHA CARDOZA: But Howie Morales, a former-teacher-turned-state-senator,
has serious concerns about a four-day week. HOWIE MORALES (D), New Mexico State Senator:
What are the positives of going to a four-day school week? What are the negatives? I want every single opportunity for my children
and other children to have to learn. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Georgia Heyward is a researcher
with the University of Washington Bothell. She says, while most districts shorten school
weeks to save money, they don’t save much. GEORGIA HEYWARD, University of Washington
Bothell: There’s very little savings in the four-day school week. It might be 2 percent of the district’s budget. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Cobre school saved $71,000
the first year, far less than the $160,000 they projected. But Mendoza there are other advantages. It’s such a geographically notch school district,
it saves students time. ROBERT MENDOZA: They ride a long time in the
buses, an hour-and-a-half to come and an hour-and-a-half to go back home. So, that’s three hours a day. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Sixth-grade teacher Laura
Brown says a big reason she moved to Cobre schools, the four-day week. LAURA BROWN, Teacher: I feel that extra day
gave me that possible one day off to rest and recover as well. But it also — it made my classroom and my
teaching that much better, because my lesson plans were better, more in-depth. KAVITHA CARDOZA: It also meant she could start
a district-wide drama club on Fridays. LAURA BROWN: Hours and hours and hours went
in on our days off to bring those kiddos in. It was their day off too. Not once did we have one kid missing. KAVITHA CARDOZA: New Mexico has a teaching
shortage. Mendoza says that is particularly a problem
in rural districts like this one, where there’s usually the only one educator for each grade
who teaches all subjects. ROBERT MENDOZA: Right before we went to this,
we had a hard time filling. We had vacancies. And this year, we have none. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Student Brianna Martinez’s
week is jampacked. BRIANNA MARTINEZ, Student: I play volleyball,
basketball, and softball. And it’s while I’m involved in National Honor
Society, student council, and I’m a class officer. KAVITHA CARDOZA: But she was always stressed
trying to juggle everything. Not anymore. BRIANNA MARTINEZ: A lot of our games are now
scheduled on Friday, which is awesome for but. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Like many parents here, coach
Randy Dominguez works at the copper mines. RANDY DOMINGUEZ, Coach, Cobre High School:
As a coach, it is beneficial just being that we could bring in the girls and — or the
boys in on Fridays and get a little bit extra work in. KAVITHA CARDOZA: And as a father of three,
it’s tough to find child care. His wife works full-time as well, so they
have to rely on family. RANDY DOMINGUEZ: There are times where we’re
like we don’t know exactly what we’re going to do. KAVITHA CARDOZA: At first, high school teacher
Kathy Ryan didn’t like the idea. KATHY RYAN, Teacher: My first reservation
had to be with, how am I going to teach everything that I need to with one less day a week? KAVITHA CARDOZA: Now she prefers the longer
class periods and full days of professional development. Ryan also says more of her students show up. KATHY RYAN: My absenteeism has diminished
quite a bit. KAVITHA CARDOZA: It’s not just students. Teacher attendance improved as well. In fact, the district’s biggest saving was
from substitute teachers. But does Ryan worry about what her students
do on Fridays? KATHY RYAN: Well, I teach high school, so
I worry about what they do every day. (LAUGHTER) KAVITHA CARDOZA: There are concerns outside
school. SONYA DIXON, Bayard Public Library: I was
dumbfounded. Sonya Dixon runs the Bayard Public Library. She beefed up programming on Fridays, but
didn’t see a big increase in attendance. Also, she found parents were dropping off
the kids for hours unattended while they worked, so Dixon had to limit library time. She’s not in favor of the four-day week. SONYA DIXON: It’s great for teachers. They love it. And why wouldn’t they? But I see a lot of grandparents and relatives
seemingly a little overwhelmed and burdened. KAVITHA CARDOZA: New Mexico ranks last in
the nation for child well-being, according to the 2018 Kids Count Data Book. It’s Friday. Volunteers are packing food supplies for almost
300 kids to take home for the traditional two-day weekend at a neighboring school district. John Conway, who runs the program, says he
worries about what kids on three-day weekends will eat. JOHN CONWAY, Grant County Food Pantry: we
have large percent of the population that are below the poverty level. They may be hungry and not getting enough
to eat, particularly on the weekend. KAVITHA CARDOZA: Athletic events are now held
on Fridays. Howie Morales, the state senator, says he
is seeing a domino effect when larger urban school districts also want to change to four-day
weeks. He’s worked to temporarily stop the practice
until he gets answers. HOWIE MORALES: How are the students performing? Is it really helping as far as financially
in savings for the school district? What’s going to happen in an economic development
and a jobs perspective when parents may have to take Fridays off and care for their kids? We have to get a handle of it to see if it’s
something that we should allow all school districts to do, or this something that we
need to put the brakes on? KAVITHA CARDOZA: Research Georgia Heyward
says there’s no consensus on how four-day weeks affect academics. GEORGIA HEYWARD: There’s been a bunch of different
research, some of it rigorous, some not. And, basically, we see kind of neutral impact. So students over time do about the same as
they did on the five-day school week. KAVITHA CARDOZA: This year, Cobre schools
saw an increase in reading and math test scores overall, but it’s unclear what the impact
is on students who struggle academically and might need more time in class. The debate is far from over. Even after a year, sixth-graders Michael and
Alexis haven’t changed their minds. What would your reaction be if the school
suddenly announced, you know what, we’re going to go back to five days? MICHAEL LAZANO: I would be happy. I love my teacher, and I love my friends,
and I want to stay with them as long as I can. ALEXIS PARELA: I really — I don’t really
like this. I would be like, uh, I don’t think I want
to this no more. (LAUGHTER) KAVITHA CARDOZA: For the “PBS NewsHour” and
Education Week, I’m Kavitha Cardoza in Bayard County, New Mexico.

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