A four-day school week: Cutting fuel bills or cutting off our noses?

When I was a kid, my parents sent me to private schools, which meant that, not only did they pay a pretty hefty tuition bill, but they also had to pony up dough for school trips, lunches, after-school programs, textbooks, tissues, PE uniforms, and hundreds of other expenses.

My classrooms were habitually under-heated in the winter, my carpools often took me on byzantine routes across the DC area, and there were times when adult supervision was totally nonexistent. Even with all of this, I somehow managed to get a decent education: years later, I still remember how to do basic math, have a fairly good idea of how the federal government is structured, and rarely misspell the word "very." I think that this might put me a couple of notches ahead of Dubya.

Coming from this background, I'm not all that horrified by some of the cutbacks that school districts are using to deal with America's current fuel crisis/recession/inflation/stagflation hiccup. I think that some of them might even improve our schools; as a child, I found it hard to fall asleep in my chilly classrooms, which actually seemed to help my studies. Furthermore, bake sales and money drives could increase parental involvement, something that is sorely lacking in many areas.
That having been said, I'm a little freaked out by some of the more severe money-saving techniques. For example, many programs are holding off on buying new textbooks, and one district in Minnesota is actually canceling Monday classes in a desperate bid to save the gas that it spends busing children. The supervisor has extended class times by about ten minutes on each of the other four days of the week in an attempt to make up for the change. According to him, most of the parents in his district don't have set hours, so the new schedule shouldn't be too disruptive.

It seems to me that the determining factor here shouldn't be parental disruption; rather, it should be the education of the students. While I can understand turning down the thermostat, making kids walk a little further for the bus, or charging parents for field trips, the idea of using outdated textbooks or employing a four-day week is somewhat frightening. During the recent Olympics, I saw a program about China's educational system. It featured a roomful of kids who practically lived at school as they prepared for the tests that would determine whether or not they got into college. Staring into their clean, ordered classrooms, I found it hard to imagine their school districts cutting the school week to save a little dough!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. He's wondering how long it will be before Wii comes out with a "virtual classroom."
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