Making the switch to a four-day school week is a growing trend in districts across the country. Once a practice reserved for rural districts, the idea is catching on in suburban and urban areas as well. Research by The National Conference of State Legislatures estimates 560 school districts in 25 states have at least one school with a four-day schedule. Leading the charge are Colorado (55%), New Mexico (43%), Idaho (38%), and Oregon (32%).
While the majority of districts cite financial reasons as the major reason for making the change, the concept has issues on both sides, from academic achievement and equity issues to life-work balance and teacher retention.
Pros to a Four-Day School Week
Most school districts cite budget constraints as the top reason for making the change. Cutting back services to four days a week helps districts reduce overhead costs, particularly in the categories of building operations and maintenance, transportation and food service. Although a report from the Education Commission of the States declares the overall savings small (an average savings of between 0.4% and 2.5%) the difference can lead to big savings. In Duval County School District in Jacksonville, Florida, moving to a four-day week produced only a paltry-sounding 0.7 percent savings. But that figure translated to a budget reduction of $7 million.
Proponents claim a four-day work week helps attract and retain quality teachers. After Colorado’s District 27J switched to four-day school weeks, their recruiting prospects jumped from a handful of applicants to over 100 per opening. This includes what superintendent Chris Fiedler calls “harder vacancies,” such as special ed and secondary math positions. In addition, the pool included more highly qualified applicants with master’s degrees and special certifications. Most impressive, the district’s teacher turnover rate dropped from over 21 percent to just 13 percent this year.
Improved Quality of Life
Compacting school into just four days a week leaves more time for kids to spend with family, friends and outside interests. Older students can spend time engaging in resumé-building public service or paid work. Teachers have more time to prepare lessons and collaborate during the day.
In addition, having an extra day each week to schedule appointments and family trips results in improved attendance. After all, when each day counts as 25% of the learning, students are less likely to miss a day. Looking forward to a three-day weekend each week leads to greater work-life balance for teachers, which leads to improved staff morale and a positive impact on what is taught in classrooms.
Cons to a Four-Day School Week
Opponents of the four-day school week point out the difficulties for lower income families. Finding childcare for just one day a week is often difficult and costly. And since most adults work five days a week, chances are that many children will simply find themselves in non-school “school” settings, like daycares, on the remaining day. It’s not exactly the idyllic three-day weekend that proponents of the adjusted schedule put forth.
Not to mention, many students rely on school food services for the majority of their meals. For these children, adding an extra day to the weekend comes at a real cost.
Longer days are tough on the youngest learners.
School days are long enough for preschoolers, kindergarteners and primary students. Switching to a four-day school week extends the school day by an hour to an hour and a half. With limited capacity for learning and retention, these long days may have negatively affect achievement and students’ attitudes.
Extracurriculars are adversely affected.
Students who wish to participate in after school sports and clubs may have fewer opportunities, especially if other schools in their district operate on different hours. In addition, transportation may not be available because of late start and finish times.
Kids need structure.
Some opponents worry about the unstructured, unsupervised free time that goes with a shorter school week. One study of schools in Colorado showed a direct correlation between a four day schedule and juvenile crime. Juvenile arrests for property crimes, especially larceny, increased by 73%, although no change was reported in drug related or violent crimes.
When it comes to academic outcomes, the jury is still out.
Opinions differ when it comes to measuring student achievement in the context of the four-day school week. One study, reported in Education Finance and Policy, reports a positive relationship between the four-day week and student performance in reading and math, using standardized test results. Another study, cited in Rural Educator, found no significant difference in the mean levels of overall academic achievement between four-day districts and five-day districts. However, an unpublished Oregon study found a temporary decline in academic performance among minority, low-income and special needs students, in particular. Time and more research are needed to determine whether the change leads to positive or negative results.
Has your district made the move to a four-day week? If so, come share your experience in our WeAreTeacher HELPLINE group on Facebook.