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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Here's An Idea We Can All Hate!

A few days ago I wrote a post So What are Public Schools Doing to Cut Their Budgets? looking at the various proposals that are being floated to get public school budgets under control. Those ideas included larger classrooms, consolidating school districts, renegotiating contracts, eliminating summer school, and a number of other smaller cost cutting measures.

Recently I heard about an idea that I know would never work in our own Jewish schools because of the already extended school day and because there is almost no way parents would accept such even if suggested. So I'm NOT suggesting our schools should even look into this idea, but it is good to understand the mechanics because we will understand how the dominoes fall when a major cost is slashed from a budget.

I ran into the idea of a Four Day School Week (note: same hours of classroom time) recently while thumbing through the newspaper. Another note: NYS is considering this ideas as I type. A quick Google search brought me to numerous articles, and I was quickly intrigued (nerdy, I know). I worked for an office where the majority of staff were switched to a 4/40 work week schedule in an emergency cost cutting measure. Auditing is travel intensive and when you have the 50% of your staff out on travel on any given week, cutting one day from a hotel stay, one day off gas bills, one day off rental car bills, and one day off the per diems quickly becomes a realized savings. In addition, there are smaller savings to be realized when utility costs fall. Ultimately, staff came to enjoy the longer days and the day off, and turnover decreased, helping the office to realize further savings in training costs.

But, a four day a week for schools? Even I, a blogger with some rather "outrageous" cost cutting ideas, would never have dreamed this idea up. (Turns out the idea is not new at all. In the 70's gas crisis, some schools switched to this schedule temporarily). From an economic standpoint, the savings, if a four day school week is instituted smartly, the savings are obvious: one less day of bussing (particularly significant because this four day school weeks are becoming more popular in rural areas, where long bus routes are de rigour), less utility cost (once again, particularly significant cost savings that can be realized in more rural communities), one less day of serving school breakfast/lunch, less insurance costs, and more. But what of education?

Turns out, many of the articles I have read have reported positive academic gains, which surprised me. Turns out that schools suffer less absences with this schedule. And, another domino falls economically, because schools also have less teacher absences and, in turn, the budget for substitute teachers fall (which is probably an academic gain in and of itself). Many schools, it turns out, have seen academic gains as well. As per this Time Magazine article, some of the financial savings in one district have been used to invest in more instruction including tutoring.

But what of teachers? The day is super long. And while many private sector employees deal well relatively well with extended days (there is a trade off for productivity I believe, but that is made up with worker satisfaction and other cost savings), we don't have to be around large groups of noisy students for hours on end. I think I was most surprised to find that there are teachers who claim to like this schedule, after trying it. Teachers had to make adjustments, of course, but I've yet to see an article with anything too negative in practice.

But what of parents and their schedules? Much of the resistance to four day school week proposals rightfully comes from parents who are wondering how to find, and how to pay for, an extra day of care for younger children. Few parents and educators want kids in front of the TV an extra day. Some parents have found that it is easier to find a full day of care for children, than a few hours daily. In communities that have come together to save school budgets, churches have stepped in to provide day care. In families where children need to work, there are reports that it is easier to commit to a job when a student has large blocks of time. Many families have come around, finding it easier to schedule time with kids because of their own work schedule, when their kids have another full day off from school. And, parents who enjoy traveling for weekend trips, enjoy this extra day off.

I've enjoyed by reading and have come to see there are quite a few benefits to a four day week beyond the financial for rural schools. I don't see this idea flying in an urban area. And, I don't believe it is at all relevant to Orthodox day schools and yeshivot (our kids have a long, long day as it is). . . . . . . .but I love reading about innovative ideas none the less.

Comment please.

44 comments:

cool yiddishe mama said...

Cool Yiddish Papa switched to a flex schedule several years ago and has enjoyed it immensely. He cut 1/2 hour off his lunch and came in 1/2 hour earlier Monday-Thursday. One Friday he works 6:30am-3:00pm and the other, he's off for the day. Like you said, the research done has benefits beyond economics. With a set day off in the week, one can schedule appointments around that time instead of taking the morning off and meandering into work sometime after lunch.

If an office still has to run 24/7 (like CYP's), people can stagger their days off to accommodate that as well.

Anonymous said...

Mazel Tov! Lakewood's Bais Faiga is back open.

http://hamercaz.com/hamercaz/site/news_item.php?id=2696

Money quote:

In an obvious reference to Orthodox blogs and news websites, the Mashgiach added that in contrast, "modern technologies" that were used as a vehicle to discuss the crisis, had been harmful and contributed to an atmosphere of mockery of the community's leaders.

anonymousmom said...

Who would pay for the child care on the fifth day when working parents who have a traditional work week must go to work?

Anonymous said...

School is nothing more than glorified daycare. The reason the Jewish schools go so long is that the parents don't want the rugrats home until they are off of work. Jewish parents would never put up with a 4 day school week as they would be forced to find day care for that fifth day. Or--trust me---they would all setup backyard camps and spend more money on those.

Many frum parents I know in large communities can't stand to have their kids around them (ever hear some women complain about how much she HATES shabbos?) and would never stand for losing a day of daycare (school).

tesyaa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tesyaa said...

As a working parent of kids of varying ages, I agree it wouldn't work for me, and I can see how it wouldn't work with the yeshiva schedule. I think it would be great for the kids, especially older kids, like middle schoolers and high schoolers. The girls' HS my daughter attends goes from 9-5:30 M-Th and 9-1:00 on Fridays, so they're almost there anyway.

(I deleted the above comment, yes, but there were no nefarious circumstances, just a typo I needed to fix.)

Ezzie said...

Verrry interesting. I know that while working, I always found that I'd work better in a short week even if it meant I was working extra hours the other days - you feel like it's a better balance. A couple extra hours a night to have a whole day off is great. As a student I essentially had the same thing - stuffing my classes into two days a week in college, even though I'd be in class until 1030pm, for example. It was worth it for the extra days off.

But agreed it wouldn't work in Jewish elementary education, unless kids and parents were okay with students staying until early evening even in younger grades. Though I don't think it's impossible...

Anonymous said...

The more I think about it the more I like it, in theory. In my neighborhood, the Limudai Chol teachers come in for 1 hour on Friday, so they're essentially doing all the work in 4 days as it is.

Not to mention the teachers who live far away who can barely make it home for Shabbos, or who are actually given a dispensation from working on Fridays because of their commute situation. We Jews are a natural for a 4 day week, here in America.

SephardiLady said...

Shoudln't read "much of," but I do believe some scheduling changes in some schools could be of benefit.

Child Ish Behavior said...

The only reason people would find this idea bad is because they see the school as free babysitting and supervision as well as free education. With the 4 day school week there will be a need for parents to actually interact with their children, or find some sort of other extra curricular activities for the kids to do.

The reason Yeshivas have the longer schedule is for exactly that reason, to keep the kids from doing anything else besides for school. So your right, this idea would never work in Yeshiva settings.

KE said...

I always thought the reason school went so late is that it takes a while to do both kodesh and chol. As a homeschooler, I would guess it takes us 50% of the time it takes in school. For Kindergarten, we are spending 2 hours a day on the basics, plus maybe another 60-90 minutes per day on readaloud books, music, nature study, Jewish folk tales, swimming, and other "extras" like that. And of course, that doesn't count lunch time, "recess," etc. It's very time-consuming to do a high-quality dual curriculum.

triLcat said...

I think it really only makes sense for high school in terms of the kids still needing to be SOMEWHERE for that extra day.

However, if all your highschoolers were home on Fridays, maybe they could at least get the chicken in the oven :)

The problem is, though, that at least at my high school, we really didn't have enough time to cover the curriculum as it is. We would have been really rushing classes, and 5:10pm is late enough to leave school if you have an average of over an hour of homework a night.

Then again, if you made school year-round, you could cut out camp costs, have a four-day week, and probably only charge marginally more than you do now for a school year.

ora said...

Do the kids like it? I found it hard enough to sit through a normal school day, it seems like cramming an extra 25% of a day of learning in there would be hard for many kids.

anonymousmom said...

Wow. I don't even want to comment. All I can say is that I enjoyed this blog because of the caliber of the posts and the commenters. The comments on this particular post are disturbing to say the most and ignorant to say the least. Doesn't anyone out there know what the heck goes on in their kids' schools? Doesn't anyone care? As for your Friday chicken, trilcat, send your sons to MTA. During the winter months, they are off on Fridays and go to school on Sundays. Opposite during the longer Fridays months.

student-teacher said...

If we forget for a moment whether or not it would ever actually fly in our communities, I think it's a fantastic idea! First of all, in my experience, truncated Fridays never accomplished much; you knew that if you were absent on a Friday, you weren't missing much. As a result, myself and most other students didn't show up on Fridays, and if we did, we would often leave early under the guise of "going away" for Shabbos. This feeds the lack of material covered because teachers won't cover very much when over half the class is missing, and the other half is present in body, but not in mind. Also, as a graduate of Stern, which is notorious for the 4-day week (why doesn't that lower the 40K tuition?), I did much better, and was almost never absent. Plus, having gotten married my junior year, it helped being able to be home on Erev Shabbos.

SephardiLady said...

Re Year Round School and a shorter week: I had not thought of this type of schedule as an alternative. But a schedule like that would actually appeal to our family I believe.

triLcat said...

Anonymous Mom,
Actually, I'm talking "in the air" as I'm hoping and praying that Israel will move to a 5-day week before my kids are in high school.
Since most people don't work Fridays, it would make sense even in the lower grades.

anonymousmom said...

"most people don't work Fridays"

I don't know anyone who does not work on Fridays. I don't know what community you live in. Seriously.

"teachers won't cover very much when over half the class is missing"

Um, once again, I am dumbfounded. College and elementary school are vastly different. We have the same attendance rate on Fridays as we do any other day. On a given Friday in a MO elementary school a student will miss the following if he/she is absent:
Chumash, Navi (MS), Loshon, Parshat Hashavua, Mishna (MS), Math, Science, English, Social Studies (in lower grades: reading, math). We go to around 2:00. In other MO schools in which I worked, it was the same thing. My son hates to miss Fridays because there is barely a recess and no official lunch so he actually feels more pressured by what he misses. I teach 4 hours straight and over 80 students each Friday. I'm not averse to changing the system, but let's understand the system a bit, shall we?

anonymousmom said...

Heck, I'm going to run with this.
What do your kids or future kids do in Preschool on Fridays? Shabbos party, Parsha review, letters practice, projects (I know that's perfectly unnecessary to some of you) and in K/Pre-1A skills groups. Can it be stuffed into Thursday? I don't know. Why don't we have the humility to ASK a preschool teacher rather than assume based on our college experiences or Cheder experience.

Anonymous said...

trilCat said she lives in Israel! In Israel most people don't work Fridays!

JS said...

I'm with anonymousmom on this one. In my MO yeshiva, we were quite busy on Fridays, even the shortest ones of the year. Moving material from Friday to other days would have been agonizing. We ended late enough as is, and most people did some extra-curriculars after school, so those would have to be pushed even later.

JS said...

More importantly though, what's the actual savings on this? I can't imagine it's that much honestly.

What bothers me about all these proposals for our yeshivas is that we're trying to solve a problem that runs in the tens or hundreds of thousands by saving a few hundred here and there.

The problem is obvious: no matter how you slice it, private school education is expensive - a double curriculum even more so. When you have significant numbers of people sending their children to these schools and then simply not paying, or not paying even close to a full amount, it's a serious problem.

Yes, the yeshivas could be more economical and save pennies here and there, but this just sidesteps the main issue.

It's almost like a family that can't afford to pay the electric bill. So what do they do? They tell the utility company to cut costs to make their service more efficient. Even the most drastic measures though will only lower their bill a few bucks maybe. No one would suggest such a ridiculous proposal for a utility company. And yet, we're constantly proposing ideas of this type for our yeshivas.

The answer in both cases is the same: people need to make more money. The current system of the rich or well-off subsidizing the poor and not-so-well-off is not sustainable. And not just in these hard economic times when donations are low. It is never sustainable, these harsh times are just speeding up the inevitable.

Yeshivas can't keep relying on donations to try to stay in the black and they can't keep raising tuitions indefinitely in the hopes that they'll squeeze more money out of those who pay in full to compensate for the increasing numbers of those who don't.

Eventually, those who pay in full will hit their breaking point. Donors will hit their breaking point.

JS said...

Oh, and eventually teachers and others who provide services in the Jewish community will hit their breaking point.

Our teachers (our GOOD teachers, those who actually care about teaching and didn't just fall into the job because they can't do anything else) will eventually get fed up. As the money continues to dry up at yeshivas, and they start getting paid late, then later and later, and maybe not at all, these teachers will have enough.

They already receive far less than they could at a public school. Their salaray is less, they benefits are less. They don't get a pension. These teachers are already sacrificing by working in a yeshiva. There's only so much sacrifice a person can make.

This is a huge problem in our communities that we think people who serve the Jewish community are doing such a mitzvah that the mitzvah compensats them for the lousy treatment they receive. So people feel they can take advantage because.

triLcat said...

Yes, I live in Israel. In Israel, most people don't work on Fridays.

The thing is, even if you can only save the school a few thousand dollars here and there through each little cut, if you make several little cutbacks, then maybe you can save a few tens of thousands of dollars. Will it end the problem? Certainly not!

Will it help? Yes. Absolutely.

I agree that it's not feasible to cut to a 4-day school week and add the hours to the rest of the week. If you add weeks to the rest of the school year, though, then you can cut the costs of camp, which will help those parents who are making ends meet or are close to making ends meet.

The ones taking free rides are going to have to lose those free rides. There's no way around it.

Tzedakah (and need-based scholarships are absolutely tzedakah) is for someone who is in a bad situation despite their best efforts, not for people who refuse to help themselves.

anonymousmom said...

JS speaks the truth. Tril, this blog is excellent except that when we speak about the Yeshiva system, we never take into account the cultural differences among Orthodox Jews. Chareidi schools and MO do not operate the same way. Israel/U.S. are completely different cultures. Within the schools--pre-school, elem, MS, HS, University levels operate differently.
At the end of the day, as JS states, this is a huge financial challenge that will need a much more comprehensive approach, broad changes, an eye for how the system currently works and the markets whose varying needs it is trying to meet. I would love to hear from a MO school administrator on this board. Until then, this is all blowing smoke.

rachel in israel said...

I was a high school teacher in the states, our school had shorter periods on fridays. For a math or science class a 25-30 min class is a waste. By the time you get the subject started class is over.

Now here is a question, assuming you cut one day from the school work and not add 25% to the other day, will the students loose that much from their lives?!? I'm asking this as a serious question, not as a joke, if a school is serious about it, they can rearrange things so there is less class missed for extra curricular activities, plays, speakers, trips, etc.
Now my second question/comment, a lot of people keep complaining about the lack of time to teach everything these is to teach. An as the resukt they make school days longer. Here in Israel we have the lovely 6-day school week and math and science scores are falling so low that it is simply embarrasing.


Now to summarize, I don't think teaching longer will improve scores, I don't think people who are in school longer know more or are better prepared for life. I don't think cutting fridays will lower scores or make any difference at all in the quality of students that we are producing (both in the US and in Israel. It isn't about time or lack of it.

http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1228728128948&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

SephardiLady said...

JS-I do NOT NOT NOT think a 4 day schedule would ever fly in our schools, from left to right or right to left. I presented an idea "we can all agree to hate" because the mechanics behind the budget interest me.

I agree with you that (some) families need to work/make more. But, let's face it, in the Modern Orthodox world, where schooling is the most expensive (although out of town, the difference between more modern and more right wings schools is not nearly as significant, which is partly why it doesn't play into my thoughts), many of us are making a heck of a lot of money.

Perhaps there is NO solution. But, then what???

I would like to hear from a Modern Orthodox administrator on what can/is being done. If someone wants to invite a guest post, please do. It would be my pleasure to post.

Lion of Zion said...

JS:

i promised myself i wasn't going to comment anymore on yeshivah posts, but i have to say that i agree with you 100% on your comment

"The problem is obvious: no matter how you slice it, private school education is expensive . . ."

education is expensive. quality education is even more expensive. and a quality dual curriculum MO education is most expensive. what in the heck do parents expect?

i wrote about this here:
http://agmk.blogspot.com/2008/01/is-there-really-tuition-crisis.html

"When you have significant numbers of people sending their children to these schools and then simply not paying, or not paying even close to a full amount"

yes, yes, yes. and my blood pressure goes up every time i hear a home-owning parent complain that the tuition board did not give them enough of a break.

but regarding your comment about teachers' remunaration packages: do you really think they are that abysmal from a purely marktetplace standpoint?

JLan said...

"but regarding your comment about teachers' remunaration packages: do you really think they are that abysmal from a purely marktetplace standpoint?"

Not particularly. If a teacher is well qualified, certified, has a masters of some sort (whether ed school or subject), then they are either making close to what public school teachers make or else are making a concious decision not to make that much. And if a teacher is not well qualified, is not certified, and does not have a masters (or, in some cases, even a bachelors), then they are competing against a completely different market. They can, moreover, likely make more as a worker at Costco or a barista at Starbucks, but are choosing not to do so.

There are certainly ways to mitigate costs. In the last few posts, I've seen people occasionally commenting about how they went to a school (often in Israel) with 30+ students per class. Believe it or not, that CAN work in the US, but it also requires a school poulation that understands it is there to learn, and is willing to be quiet on occasion and do so. The lack of discipline I see in the day school world is appalling, and that certainly contributes toward the problems (you can't have a large class if the class won't be quiet).

Anonymous said...

Why is the discipline so bad? Our community prides itself, probably to a fault, about its superiority of its maidlach and bachurim to the goyishe riffraff (not my personal opinion, but almost a ubiquitous opinion in the frum community). Not comparing to inner city populations, just regular, suburban or working class populations.

aml said...

I vote for four days per week with a year-round schedule. DH and I are both professionals but we'd figure out a way to make it work.

aml said...

Oh, and when I lived in Israel (2000-01) I worked Sundays-Fridays (until noon)... But I think that was (and still is?) the norm in high tech.

SephardiLady said...

aml-The more I think about a year round 4 day school schedule the more I think I like it, even though I can already hear the objections. Maybe the idea deserves its own post.

Dave said...

I'm a big fan of year round schooling anyway.

It should also be noted that if you go to staggered breaks (which does take considerably more work from a logistical standpoint), you can actually fit more students in the same sized building. You just have them on overlapped schedules.

JLan said...

"It should also be noted that if you go to staggered breaks (which does take considerably more work from a logistical standpoint), you can actually fit more students in the same sized building. You just have them on overlapped schedules."

True, but this is limited in the Jewish context, since there are certain break times (Pesach, for example) that one presumably wants to let the entire school go.

anonymousmom said...

"Not comparing to inner city populations, just regular, suburban or working class populations."

I've been in inner-city and suburban public schools. I have friends who have worked in those situations and in Yeshiva Day schools. The students in Yeshiva day school are known to be much more unruly in the classrooms and in the hallways. It all boils down to what we tolerate as a system and the fact that the day schools are "run" by the parents. Even in MO schools, I have seen a downward spiral over the last 20 years. Next time you help chaperone a class trip to a museum or other public place, take note of the public school classes and how they comport themselves on the trip. I guarantee you that no matter what city and what trip, you will see better behavior, more structure exhibited in the public school classes. They are just used to it. Having worked in Manhattan for a few years, I can tell you that inner city public schools are no different. Does it mean that there are no discipline problems in the PS? No. But, you have the combo of a district-run school with a clear, defined structure and--in inner-city schools--heavy immigrant population who actually respect the schools and know that it is their children's path to future success. The real problem in that environment is that many of these parents are not at home and the children are watching too much T.V., playing too many video games and eating too much junk night after night. Our kids in MO schools are also suffering from the video game plague that no parents are addressing.

Dave said...

JLan:

Sure, but that is true in the secular world as well. It is just different dates that have everything shut down.

JS said...

The biggest problem with these cost-cutting measures, at least in MO yeshivas, is that the parents won't tolerate even the slightest drop in service. They won't accept less extracurriculars, less gym, less facilities, fewer classroom hours, fewer field trips, fewer class shabbatons, etc etc etc.

They figure they're paying so much, they want their money's worth. They pay all that money to get a top notch education and no one is going to short change them of it no matter what.

Of course, ironically, those who don't pay or pay far less than full price have this attitude as well.

Anonymous said...

JS and LoZ -- you are making the point that even a bare bones private education is still expensive. Private education is expensive, period.

Lion of Zion said...

ANON:

the truth is education in general is expensive, private or otherwise. the only question is who picks up the tab for that expense. in public school the entire tax base picks up the tab, whereas in private school the parent body (and some donors) picks up the tab (although as in our schools, generally not in an equitable manner)

ANON MOM:

my father taught in an inner city h.s. (the type with metal detectors) and in the evening in yeshivot. he always said that his public school students were generally respectful (at least in the classroom), whereas the yeshivah students were vilda chayos

last year i worked on ave j. for a month a block away from my alma mater. i was disgusted by the way the boys behaved during lunch and on the way home. but i wasn't sure if they've gotten worse since i was there or if it's the same but now i've become a grumpy old man

Anonymous said...

Re discipline, the public school standards are much more structured, as Anonymousmom points out, and much more strict, with mandatory consequences for certain offenses. Would our yeshivas publish such standards? Never, because as with so many other actions, bad behaviors are swept under the rug in our communities and are not acknowledged to exist.

aml said...

I don't know about all of this. Here in Baltimore City, 51 public schools students have been suspended so far this year for beating teachers. Yes, that reads "beating teachers."

Maybe the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

anonymousmom said...

All day, I've been thinking of the switch to Public School and the pluses and minuses for me personally. I have never considered it as seriously as I do now. On a practical note, I know of at least one school that scaled back its annual dinner. I also know some day schools (MO) that are working together on trying to generate solutions. I know that we will be experiencing staff cuts next year at our school. Some schools are getting very transparent about their choices and the kinds of discussions the boards are having. I don't know what exactly is said behind those doors, but I do know that--in writing and in conversation with staff members--respect for the teachers is evident and I appreciate that. I applaud the healthy and respectful attitude toward the problem. I wish that the following was a universal approach: transparency, humility, creative thinking, teamwork, respect for teachers and administrators.

anonymousmom said...

aml, I personally know family members and friends who have spent years teaching in inner-city schools in tough neighborhoods. It can be a bit scary at times (escorted walks to your car after parent conferences), but--on the whole--it isn't as bad as people think. And then there is the possibility that if you are a math/science teacher it is much more likely for you to get a better school placement. Also, elementary grades are not as problematic. It is what it is. Same for the Yeshiva system. We will all have to make a deliberate, well-thought out choice and weigh the options. Just swatting away PS isn't really a knowledgable, measured choice.