I spoke with Hill about why districts may elect a four-day model, the trend’s trajectory, and what this means for children. Our conversation below has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
Hayley Glatter: I understand why a district would be compelled to give the four-day model a try if the school board thought it would result in some savings. But as you wrote in the Brookings piece, that's actually not the case, and many districts decided to go to the model after the cost-savings idea was debunked. Why do you think they still tried it?
Paul Hill: It’s one of those things where people think they can do what others didn’t. They hope to save money even if the odds are low. But there are two other reasons people go to it: At least initially, I think superintendents were enthusiastically thinking they could find a way to get more time for teachers to collaborate and maybe actually improve instruction. But the other was that teachers and families with stay-at-home moms and so on were all pretty glad to have that one day extra on the weekend where they could do things like take their kids to the doctor. So it was a combination of hope for academic benefits and real family and quality-of-life benefits.
Glatter: It sounds like a lot of those quality-of-life benefits are more adult-centric rather than child-centric.
Hill: Well, practically all of them are. You can see where children of fairly privileged families said, “Oh here’s my chance to take my kid to the college-prep course or on a tour or to get involved in an enrichment project of some kind.” The kids could come out fine from that, but what we’re concerned about are two sets of kids. One, little kids who were, because of the way four-day weeks were structured, going to school a lot longer days; it wasn’t clear to anybody that they were able to handle that. Secondly, the kids of poorer families or families who weren’t two-earner families where the kids might be at loose ends on the fifth day. And we were particularly concerned in Idaho, where we were studying, about the recently settled-out migrant families, of whom some districts had a lot, where there was really no structure of any kind in the neighborhoods where those kids lived. I’m a political scientist, and I’m always wary of a situation where groups of people can make decisions in their interest and exclude the interest of others, and the big issue in education is always: Will adults make a deal that suits them but doesn’t help kids? I’m afraid that’s the case here, or it can be.
Glatter: What is it about rural districts, specifically in the Mountain West, that makes them more likely to adopt this model?
Hill: Initially, the cost-saving thing was very attractive. ... A lot of them have kids that are in fairly remote places and have big busing issues, so they thought they could save money on buses and the like. And they were having financial trouble because not only was state funding in the periods after the Great Recession falling, but so was federal funding for rural areas. So they were concerned about it.