Is A 9-To-5 School Day The Solution For Working Parents?

A new study suggests as much.
Smiling businesswoman walking with son outdoors
Smiling businesswoman walking with son outdoors

By the time your child starts pre-K, you’re aware that school schedules are not designed for the working parent.

The school day ends hours before most parents are able to leave their jobs. I’m extremely lucky that my child attends a school with an after-school program on-site, but even with that, I’m often scrambling to make it right on the dot, only to hear my child complain about being “the last kid” whether he actually is or not.

And then there are all the school closings and holidays ― two weeks more off than the average employee has paid leave, according to a new report from the Center for American Progress.

Already this month my son has had four days off school, two of which I was unable to find a babysitter for and had to take off to be with him. And I’m one of the lucky ones who has paid leave ― parents who work part-time or as contractors may not have that option.

Each year, when I struggle to find a babysitter to cover the gap between when school year starts and the after-school program begins, I wonder in what world this scheduling makes sense.

It doesn’t, according to the report, entitled “Workin’ 9 to 5: How School Schedules Make Life Harder For Working Parents.”

The public school schedule, they point out, was designed in a time when most mothers stayed home, and many children worked.

“What we saw was that schools sort of reflects this attitude of the 1950s, where there was an assumption that one adult, usually a woman, would be home to come to the school pick them up at 3 o’ clock or deal with it when the schools closed,” Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow at the Center and co-author of the report, told The Huffington Post.

The Center studied the calendars, schedules and policies of major U.S. school districts and data from the National Center for Education Statistics to draw their conclusions.

The report points out that in school districts with the most closings, the average full-time employee could use all their paid vacation and holiday days and still need to cover 13 more days throughout the school year, which would cost “an average of $6,600 per year, or 9 percent of an average family’s income.”

And that’s assuming again that they’re part of the minority of parents who have paid leave. School scheduling issues hit low-income families the hardest. The report reads: “Families in the lowest income quintile, for instance, earn just $29,000, and for them, paying $6,600 for child care is simply out of reach.”

Reasons for school closings can include things like teacher training, parades, and even the start of deer hunting season, the report says. Not to mention all those school events and parent-teacher conferences that are often scheduled during the work day. This also keeps working parents from being able to get involved with the child’s school.

Additionally, “fewer than half of elementary schools and fewer than one-third of low-income schools offer before and after school care, and when offered it is unaffordable,” the report concludes.

And current school schedules, the report points out, aren’t just inconvenient for parents, but cost the U.S. economy $55 billion in productivity every year and have a measurable effect on families.

“It isn’t just a matter of inconvenience. This has negative impact on a woman’s ability to work. We were clearly able to document that if schools had more flexible schedules, more than a million women would be joining the work force. For many low income families, they’re making decisions between: should they keep their job or be there for their child?” said Boser.

One of the reports’ main recommendations is the introduction of a 9a.m. to 5p.m. school day, to coordinate with working parents’ schedules. The researchers looked at different ways funding could be used to support an extended school day without asking teachers to work longer or uncompensated hours. Like at Goldie Maple Academy in Queens, where teachers work four longer days a week, then have a day off.

“We just always assume schools close at 3, and then theres some kind of jerry-rigged system we try to put on top of it,” says Boser. “What should a school look like if it reflects communities today?”

That last question is something we should all be asking ourselves.