Schools Expect Too Much of Working Parents

While balancing work and family life is never a simple task, it often seems that public schools add to the problem. A few weeks ago, for instance, the school nurse rang me up: My 8-year-old daughter had a headache. Could I come by the school with some Tylenol?

Due to school policy the school nurse couldn’t administer one of the most widely used, over-the-counter drugs in the world—meaning I needed to table my work and visit the school to help give my daughter a tablespoon of basic medicine.

The week before that, our school closed its doors for the day for teacher training, throwing a different wrench into my schedule. My wife and I struggled to find childcare for our daughters.

For most working parents, the difficult juggling between work schedules and school schedules is typical. School days that end mid-afternoon, frequent closings, and strict medical policies make life for many parents a heart-wrenching balancing act. But it may be taking a greater toll than many people realize.

In a new report I wrote with my colleagues at the Center for American Progress, we found that, over the course of a school year, districts close their doors for 29 weekdays on average—far more than the number of days most working parents have in paid vacation and holidays. That’s the equivalent of six full weeks of school, and these figures do not include summer vacation, early dismissals or unexpected closings due to bad weather.

This misalignment between school schedules and work schedules creates tremendous costs for parents, their children, and the economy. In fact, misaligned school schedules could be costing the U.S. economy a staggering $55 billion in lost productivity each year.

The reasons for many school closings are questionable at best. For example, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, most schools close on the opening day of deer hunting season, something that clearly has nothing to do with academic outcomes.

Meanwhile, some school policies force parents to jump through seemingly impossible hoops. In Duval County, Florida, for example, parents or guardians are expected to pick up their child from school within 60 minutes of being notified that their child has a headache or fever.

To a large degree, it often feels like school districts simply assume that one parent is always on call to attend to their child whenever school closes, is delayed, or even during a non-emergency like my daughter’s headache.

But this doesn’t reflect the realities of the modern family. There are more parents working full time than ever, and many of them don’t have flexible schedules. In fact, nearly half of all workers – part-time and full-time – report having no flexibility in their work schedules.

While poorly aligned school schedules affect all families, perhaps the greatest burden falls on low-income households. Low-income families often have little control over their work schedules, and they’re far more likely to work irregular, on-call, split, or rotating shift times. At the same time, these workers are less likely to easily afford the sky-high costs of child care, which exceeds college costs in many areas.

Fortunately, there are ways that schools can help lessen the burden on working parents. A number of schools around the country have extended their school day or year in a cost-effective manner. For instance, many schools are partnering with volunteer organizations – such as AmeriCorps and Citizen Schools – to bring on extra staff at little to no cost to help lengthen the school day. Other schools, such as the high-performing Brooklyn Generation High School in New York City, reduce costs by staggering teacher schedules.

Some schools are also rethinking the way in which they connect with parents. For instance, some school districts – like in Mason, Kentucky – are implementing parent-teacher home visits. So instead of scheduling parent-teacher conferences in the middle of the work day, teachers meet with parents in the family’s home. Other alternatives to school-based conferences include the use of online platforms such as Skype.

To be fair, designing a school calendar that meets the needs of all working parents is no simple task. Plus, some new programs like aftercare will cost additional funds, and teachers should get paid extra if they work additional hours.

But the benefits of a redesigned school schedule far outweigh the costs. Public schools should stop operating under outdated schedules and instead establish policies that reflect the needs of the modern-day working family. Because families like mine just don’t need any more headaches.

This post first appeared at US News and World Report.

3 Responses to “Schools Expect Too Much of Working Parents”

  1. Actual Teacher -

    You’re an idiot who clearly has never been a teacher. The beauty of America is freedom of press and speech but with that comes the ability to show what am arrogant POS you are. “Great” article. You go be a teacher for just a week and let me know how that works out for you.

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  2. Deanne Gigante -

    Your article seems way out of touch, schools already cater way to much to the working parent schedule. They are already taking on students way before school even starts in the AM because of working parents which causes more work hours for teachers or other staff workers to have to come in earlier to watch them or stay later or have a daycare after school. As far as medicine being distributed I am with the school and totally agree with them can you imagine the school suits if something were to go wrong or if someone gets accused of something. And if you have children they are your children, sick or well it is parents responsibility no matter what their work schedule is like. Don’t send your sick fever child to school and get everyone else sick. Work it out, people have been doing it for years. A school has turned into a disciplinary, manner school, teacher, babysitter and so on. As far as school closing teachers are working, planning and training (it is not a day off) continuously on how to adhere to students learning abilities and sometimes how to fix and help students. We do not need to change the school schedule teachers are already worked to death with before, during and after schedules, paper work, grading and not to mention a lot of personal time spent planning and so on. We need to change how families work out their personal time so they may spend time with their children and help them without the whole burden on the school. Sorry I do not care to work anymore hours in my day or weekend, it interferes with my personal life. My suggestions is to get a parent to be a sub for a few days in a school to see how a real school day is run with 17-30 children in a room and get your paperwork, planning and grading done. A school should not have to pick up the slack if their are working parents. They already have breakfast in the am and so on. You need to get what really happens at school instead of just a perspective from a parents point of view only.

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  3. Leann -

    Seriously! You are complaining about having to leave work to give your daughter medicine? Parenting first and career is second! If she’s sick, what kind of parent are you sending her to school?! You have no idea what teachers do. Spend a day with an elementary teacher–not a private school like I’m sure your daughter attends! A teacher’s school day is longer than your day for sure. They work until 5 or later then go home to take care of their children too (yes they’re parents also) then work on school stuff for the next day. Plus work weekends and breaks! Teacher’s have to deal with state education agencies with no education experience, parents with no parenting experience, and pay that is not equivalent to their time and skills. That’s the modern day education system. Your article was posted on Facebook and you are quickly being seen as someone completely out of touch and an obvious elitist. I challenge you to spend time in a real classroom!

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