The 4-day school week is an idea that follows the same concept of creating a three-day weekend for employees by compressing five days of work into four. It is an idea that is not without controversy. When you have students taking a weekday off, then you create challenges for households were both parents are working.
There are currently four states which are leading the trend of implementing the four-day school week right now: Colorado, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Montana. It is an idea that is especially popular in the rural areas of these states. The Harvard Graduate School of Education estimates that there are about 560 districts in 25 states that have adopted or allow a version of this alternative schedule.
It is an idea that has zero nobility behind it. The first school district to adopt this alternative schedule was in Cimarron, NM. They introduced the concept in 1972 as a way to save money on electricity and transportation during an energy crisis. In some rural districts, kids were spending 4 hours per day on the bus. Reducing one day of these costs cut the district’s spending by 20% almost immediately.
These are the 4-day school weeks pros and cons to consider as they apply to the modern district.
List of the Pros of 4-Day School Weeks
1. It gives adults more flexibility with their child’s schedule.
Although there is always some initial skepticism about switching to a four-day school week, parents and teachers typically find that the flexibility the schedule offers is a tremendous benefit. Teachers discover that they have more free time to develop additional curriculum opportunities. Parents get the convenience of taking their children to appointments or errands on the day off, which helps them miss less school time. At the same time, students on this alternative schedule receive the same amount of schooling as those on the traditional 5-day calendar.
2. It ends the issue that some districts have with the “football flu.”
Many school districts schedule sporting events on Thursday evenings. This timing impacts the amount of sleep that students receive that night, making it difficult for them to focus on their Friday morning classes. Superintendents across the United States often refer to this condition as the “football flu,” although it applies to any extracurricular activity offered by the school. Switching to the four-day schedule eliminates the need to make it to class after a late night. That means students have more access to meaningful learning opportunities because they are getting the rest they require.
3. It improves student attendance.
Smaller schools typically benefit from a four-day schedule because their students are usually living in rural places, such as a family farm. Giving these families an extra day each week to manage responsibilities makes it easier to get the work finished without the need to miss school. Some districts saw an increase of 20% when they made this shift within the first three years of the change. Teacher attendance rates improve as well. This outcome occurs because there are more opportunities to plan ahead for potentially challenging circumstances.
4. It gives a school district an opportunity to save money.
Colorado District 27J became one of the largest in the United States to make the switch to a four-day school week in 2018. They currently serve 18,000 students. The district decided to cut Mondays from their schedule while adding 40 minutes to the other days of the week. NPR reports that the school district expects to save about $1 million in costs that involve utilities, busing, and labor costs.
5. It is easier to recruit staff at school districts with the alternative schedule.
Adults working in the field of education often find that working the 4-day school week makes them more productive. Research out of New Zealand backs up this perspective with meaningful data. Perpetual Guardian, which is a wealth management firm based in Wellington, discovered that employees were 24% more productive, with more balance in their life, then that was working a traditional schedule. Even meetings were shorter during this research study dropping from two hours to 30 minutes. That is why the school districts which run with this schedule can typically find more applicants for their open positions.
6. It is easier to plan after-school events with the 4-day school week.
This advantage comes back to the idea of illuminating the “football flu” in some districts. Transportation officials find that it is easier to travel on the off day when attending games outside of the district. It reduces the impact that school-related activities may have on a student’s education while reducing the number of potential drivers needed. Although the rest of the week can be longer for students with practices and other responsibilities, the advantages here often outweigh the potential issues.
7. It creates more time for teachers to spend on specific subjects.
The average school day is about six hours long. Some districts will add another 15-30 minutes to that figure on a five-day schedule. It is easy to think of this period as being all learning time, but that is not the case. You will have a 15-minute morning break, another one in the afternoon, and then 30-60 minutes for a lunch break. Now take away another 10 minutes for attendance, along with a similar amount of time to pack up and leave at the end of the day. If there’s an assembly, then that is another 20 minutes of lost time. Subtract five minutes for each lesson being taught.
There are other time wasters found during the school day as well. That means the average student receives maybe 2 ½ hours of meaningful education time during the day. Moving to a 4-day schedule reduces the number of transitions required while extending the time for them, which is why it can be a benefit to the learning outcomes of some students.
List of the Cons of 4-Day School Weeks
1. It may encourage a decline in academic performance.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there is an unpublished study that looked at school districts in Oregon that have moved to the four-day schedule. The results of this work showed that there was a temporary decline in academic performance when the students came from a low-income, minority, or special needs perspective. It took four years for this decline to begin correcting itself to match the results that students on a five-day schedule were able to achieve.
2. It may cause juvenile crime to increase.
Stefanie Fisher from Cal Poly State University looked at the four-day school schedule to see if there were impacts or correlations on juvenile crime because of the switch. She studied school districts in Colorado and discovered that juvenile arrests for property crime, especially larceny, Rose by 73% went a school district went from five days to four. The good news from her research was that there were no changes in violent or drug-related activities. It should also be noted that the increase in property crime occurred on all days of the week – not just the days when the kids were out of school.
3. It may not create an improvement in student grades.
The research that we have on the educational outcomes from a four-day school week are still mixed, even though we are approaching the 50-year anniversary of this idea. A research study published by the journal Education Finance and Policy in 2015 found that students in Colorado showed significant statistical improvements in their mathematics scores. There is also a study published by Paul M. Hewitt and George S. Denny from the University of Arkansas found that there were no significant differences with students on this alternative schedule compared to the five-day week.
4. It does not always help school districts save money.
The Oklahoma Department of Education studied the financial impact of going to a four-day week across the 16 school districts that went with this schedule during the 2011-12 school year. They compared spending on transportation, food, utilities, and support staff for a total of seven years, looking at the traditional schedule and the new one.
Their findings showed that seven school districts were able to save money by switching to the alternative schedule, but nine of them were actually spending more. The average increase what’s more than $12,000, while the districts who were able to save were able to eliminate about $5,500.
5. It can create problems with the student’s home schedule.
Even though there are clear advantages for rural districts within a four-day school week, there are still scheduling issues to consider for families. There will be less time to complete chores on the farm with an extended schedule over most of the week. Families that have both parents working, or households with a single parent, may have professional responsibilities that cannot shift to the new school times. That is why there can be massive levels of resistance against this idea in some districts. It can sometimes place a burden on families that is just too great for them to bear, forcing them to look at an alternative school instead.
6. It often changes the holiday schedules for the school district.
When a holiday comes around during the school year, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter, then district who are on the four-day schedule will often take the entire week off instead of taking a day or two. Although a two-week break during Christmas and a full week in the Spring are common in the United States, taking a full week at Thanksgiving is unusual. There are other holidays, such as President’s day, which may also create a week-long break. Not only does this create problems for the family schedule, but it also can extend the school year well into the summer.
7. It could be argued that a 4-day week isn’t really a four-day schedule.
The reason why many school districts are unable to save money when they make a switch to this alternative schedule is because they are still running activities on that day off. There are administrative staff that stay on-duty, sports practices that could be called, games to attend, inservices to be at, and other events to manage. Larger school districts often see little savings because of the need to still be open that extra day.
8. It can force changes on other school districts.
Most schools in a region work to coordinate their schedules to ensure that activities occur at roughly the same time. This structure makes it easier for staff and students to get involved in community events, like Scouts or 4-H, while also creating extra-curricular groups or scheduling performances. When one district is not operating for an entire day each week, that can put a lot of added stress om the other communities.
The pros and cons of 4-day school weeks are not a suggestion that kid should spend less time in school. What this information shows is that schools which are in primarily rural districts do get an opportunity to add some flexibility to their finances and schedule. Results are mixed. Some students thrive with this idea, while others do not. That’s why it is a choice that is usually best left to the individual districts.
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.