Spare time from 4-day school weeks may lead to delinquency

Spare time from 4-day school weeks may lead to delinquency

(Colo.) Juvenile crime rose 20 percent when rural Colorado schools adopted a four-day school-week according to new research which could have serious implications for districts considering making a similar change.

Currently, schools in more than states have moved to a four-day week, often citing cost-savings as the key motivating factor. But authors of this latest study note that while administrators may be able to cut transportation spending, most parents continue to work five days a week, leaving high school-aged children unsupervised during the hours they’re most likely to get into trouble.

“We find that the implementation of the four-day school week in rural areas leads to an increase in youth crime, particularly property crime,” authors of the report wrote. “Our findings support the common belief that when youth are supervised, as they are in school, they are less likely to commit crime.”

Schools in states including Georgia, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Louisiana, Montana, Rhode Island and Wyoming have adopted a four-day school week–and nearly 300 districts host four-day school week programs, according to data collected by the National Conference of State Legislatures. One in five districts in Oklahoma operate on a four-day schedule, and as of 2017, 98 of the 178 school districts in Colorado work on a four-day week.

More often than not, these schedules are adopted in small, rural districts aiming to cut spending. For instance, administrators regularly cite savings in reduced transportation–which for rural schools where students may travel long distances can be substantial–as well as costs related to food, utilities and staff.

In Colorado, authors of the study found that many administrators cited absences due to athletic commitments as a motivator as well. Because rural schools in Colorado are geographically isolated, students often travel substantial distances for sports competitions and other school-related extracurricular activities. With the change, schools would be able to schedule the majority of sports competitions on Fridays, allowing students to remain in class all day Monday through Thursday.

Supporters of the shortened week point out how a four-day schedule can improve teacher morale and increased student attendance, as well as open up Fridays for dentist or doctor appointments and extra-curricular activities. Opponents, on the other hand, argue that longer class days Monday through Thursday are exhausting for students and staff, and that finding day care for children whose parents work outside the home can be a struggle.

Researchers Stefanie Fischer, an assistant professor in economics at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, and Daniel Argyle, a data analyst at FiscalNote in Washington D.C., analyzed data collected from rural law enforcement agencies in Colorado over the period 1997-2014 in communities where schools operated on a four-day schedule.

Using data on reported crimes and aggregating to the law enforcement agency-year level, they found that, on average, juvenile crime rates among high school age students ages 14-17 increased overall as a result of schools moving to a four-day week. Property crimes, which include burglary, larceny and motor vehicle theft, saw the largest increase–while rates of violent crime including homicide, sexual assault, robbery and assault remained the same. The study also found some evidence of an increase in drug offenses.

The largest spike in crime rates was on Thursday nights, which researchers suggested may be the result of students treating Thursday night as the new Friday night, essentially gaining another weekend night.

Past research has produced mixed results. A recent study of four-day school schedules in Oregon found lower rates of achievement, particularly among students of color, low-income students, and those with a disability.

And notably, a 2014 report on teacher school furlough days every Friday in Hawaii found they coincided with fewer arrests for drugs and assault among students.

Still, Fischer and Argyle concluded that “results from this study highlight the fact that policymakers should be aware of the unintended consequences associated with school schedules that result in more unsupervised time.”

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