RELEASE: Misaligned School and Work Schedules Are Costing Working Parents and the U.S. Economy, New CAP Analysis Finds

Washington, D.C. — Misaligned school and work schedules mean that the average school is closed for 29 days during the school year, and the need for parents to scramble constantly for child care arrangements is costing working families and the U.S. economy as a whole, a new analysis from the Center for American Progress shows. The report authors examined the calendars, schedules, and policies of the largest school districts in the country, which serve almost 6 million students, as well as data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The resulting analysis shows the multitude of ways that U.S. schools may make life harder for working parents. To address these issues and improve the lives of working parents with children, CAP’s report offers a number of recommendations that the federal government, states, school districts, and schools can pursue.

“By closing intermittently, frequently, and early each day, schools make it really hard for working parents—and particularly, working moms—to fulfill all their responsibilities,” said Catherine Brown, Vice President of Education Policy at CAP. ‎”Better aligning school and work schedules ought to be a core component of a progressive agenda to help working families.”

“Whether it’s the start of hunting season, parent-teacher conferences, or a professional development day—all of which result in school closure or early dismissal—families are regularly required to make child care arrangements or miss work in order to accommodate highly irregular school schedules,” said Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow at CAP. “Times have changed, but school schedules haven’t—and that means that many working parents must juggle being a committed parent and being a committed working professional.”

Key findings from the analysis include:

  • Schools are closed far more than working parents typically have in paid vacation and holidays. Throughout the school year, schools are closed for 29 days, more than two workweeks longer than the average private-sector worker has in paid vacation and holidays. This includes days off for staff training, special programs, and seasonal breaks, as well as major federal and state holidays. Meanwhile, the average private-sector worker with paid leave has 16 days off in paid holidays and vacation. When summer is included, schools are closed for a total of 83 days, or nearly 30 percent of weekdays each year, which amounts to 67 days more than the typical worker receives in paid vacation time and holidays. And some districts, such as New York City and Los Angeles, have more days off than most—33 and 34, respectively, excluding summer vacation.
  • If parents were to use child care during school closings, expenses would add up fast. Assuming that parents could find stable child care in the instance of every school closure, if families pay out of pocket for child care to cover the excess school closure days and hours, it would cost an average of $6,600 per year, or 9 percent of an average family’s income. Low-income workers would pay a higher percentage of their income.
  • Misaligned school schedules could be costing the U.S. economy $55 billion in lost productivity annually. The gap in full-time employment rates between mothers of elementary-school-age children and mothers of middle- and high-school-age children suggests that more than 1 million fewer mothers of elementary-school-age children are working full time, forfeiting an annual median wage of $35,000, or about $35 billion every year across the economy. Additionally, the report authors multiplied the number of lost hours due to school closings by the average hourly wage of women with elementary-school-age children in the United States, limiting the pool of affected workers to households where all residing parents are employed. The result is an additional $20 billion of lost productivity due to school closings.
  • 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 often unaffordable.
  • The misalignment of school and work schedules has a disparate impact on African Americans and Hispanics families and low-income working parents.
  • Key school events, such as parent-teacher conferences, are usually scheduled during the day.
  • Health policies and weather-related closures foist additional, unexpected days off onto working parents.
  • While a 3:00 p.m. closing time is a long-standing tradition, most schools close two hours or more before the end of the typical workday.

Easing work-school schedule conflicts will require action from the federal government, states, school districts, and schools alike. CAP’s report lays out recommendations for all policy players to pursue, including:

  • Federal-level recommendations. The White House should convene a conference on supporting working families through improved school schedules, and Congress should appropriate additional funds for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, Promise Neighborhoods, and the Full-Service Community Schools Program, all of which support schools and communities by providing wraparound services, after-school activities, and longer school days. The U.S. Department of Education should promote the use of Title I, Part A dollars for lengthening and redesigning the school day. The department should also create and support a working group of school, district, and major community-based organizational leaders who are committed to working on this issue and sharing best practices.
  • State- and district-level recommendations. While teachers should not have to work longer hours without additional compensation, states and districts should create more schools that align with typical work schedules. States and districts should introduce a new model of choice, “9-to-5 schools,” and target these schools in low-income communities. States could launch new competitive grant programs that support this effort. States should also rethink their requirements on instructional time, including by increasing the minimum number of hours that students are required to be in school. Districts should negotiate more efficient bus schedules that align with a 9-to-5 school day. Districts should also better accommodate disadvantaged families and support more parental involvement.
  • School-level recommendations. Schools should leverage technology to communicate with parents, reducing or eliminating the need for parents to take time off work for in-school meetings. All schools within a community should align their calendars and take cues from major employers about emergency closings.

Click here to read “Workin’ 9 to 5: How School Schedules Make Life Harder for Working Parents” by Catherine Brown, Ulrich Boser, and Perpetual Baffour.

For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, contact Allison Preiss at apreiss@americanprogress.org or 202.478.6331.