How School Schedules Make Life Harder for Working Parents

Posted by Center for American Progress on November 14, 2016

Workin’ 9 to 5: How School Schedules Make Life Harder for Working Parents

Introduction and summary

Barack Obama is the commander in chief of the most powerful nation in the world. He oversees more than 2 million federal workers, attends countless meetings, and makes numerous public appearances, duties all requiring that his
schedule be mapped out by the minute. But when it comes to parent-teacher conferences, President Obama is just like every other working parent, forced to take off from work in the middle of the day to travel to his children’s school.1

The president’s visits to his daughters’ school underscore the unrealistic expectations that schools too often have for working parents and the ways in which school policies put pressure on already stretched families. By closing at 3:00 p.m., shutting down intermittently and frequently, hosting important school events in the middle of the day, and more, schools make it really hard for parents to balance their commitments to their children and their jobs.

In fact, when it comes to school schedules, President Obama might actually be lucky. His job at the White House is flexible enough to allow him to make time to travel to his daughters’ parent-teacher conferences and other school events. Many working parents do not have that autonomy. In fact, nearly half of all workers report not having any form of flexibility in their work schedules.2

Almost 40 percent of all workers do not even have paid vacation time.3 The world has evolved dramatically since the public school schedule first took root. When the school day first evolved, millions of children—many as young as 10 years old—worked, and most mothers stayed at home.4  Today, child labor for the most part is outlawed, and 75 percent of women with school-age children work.5

But in many ways, schools have not updated their policies to adapt to this changed world, and this means that large numbers of working parents must split their time between being a committed parent and being a committed working professional.

This report, then, aims to answer three questions:
• How misaligned are school and work schedules?
• What can schools do to support parents as they try to meet their obligations to their employers and to their children?
• How can schools and districts pay for this effort? There’s a short answer to this last query because 9-to-5 school reform is less expensive than most people believe—and does not require teachers to work more for less pay.

To examine these questions, the Center for American Progress analyzed the calendars, schedules, and policies of the largest school districts in the country, which serve almost 6 million students.6 CAP researchers also examined data
from the National Center for Education Statistics. The resulting analysis reveals the multitude of ways that U.S. public schools make life unnecessarily harder for working parents.

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