The Pros and Cons of the Four-Day School Week

Children entering a school bus

There’s no denying it: the concept of a four-day school week is extremely enticing. And it’s swiftly becoming a reality for many schools across the country.

Currently, in the U.S., there are 24 states that have at least one district following a shortened school week schedule. The majority of those districts are within western states that are largely rural, like Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado.

Map showing the 25 US states that have at least one district using a four-day school week.
Source: Heyward, Georgia. What Do We Actually Know about the Four-Day School Week? Seattle: Center on Reinventing Public Education, 2018.

It’s a growing trend in the education landscape no matter where you live. The four-day school week schedule may become an even greater reality as districts determine what teaching and learning look like after a pandemic.

In this post, you’ll learn…

  • How states implement a shortened schedule
  • The benefits of a four-day school week
  • The disadvantages of the schedule
  • How it impacts academic performance

Making the switch to a four-day school week is a big decision. Let’s start by taking a look at how states go about making this change.

State-Level Implementation of a Four-Day School Week

School calendars don’t magically happen. Instead, the annual school calendar is governed by the minimum instructional time required by each state. The minimum instructional time is tied to funding formulas that ensure schools receive less funding from the state if the time requirement isn’t met..

Many states allow districts to opt into a four-day school week by offering flexible requirements, definitive rules for the administration, or through a waiver approval process. Legal guidelines don’t often list the four-day week as an option, but rather provide flexibility so the minimum instructional day requirement is counted by the hour or minute instead.

Some states offer guidelines on transitioning to a four-day school week and then remain hands off on monitoring the process. Meanwhile, other states require districts to submit their four-day plans to their state education commissioner or their superintendent for approval.

California is the outlier. If a district in the Golden State wants to transition to a four-day schedule, permission can only be granted if legislation is passed. 
It’s obvious that each state has its own way of doing things. Check out the Education Commission site to research how the process occurs in your state.

The Pros and Cons of a Shortened School Schedule

Every issue has its good and bad bits, and the same is true for districts making the switch to a shortened school week. One internet search reveals a wealth of opinions on both sides of the issue, and each argument sheds light on the topic. 

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest pros and cons of a four-day school week.

The Pros

Attracts More Teachers

Supporters argue that a shortened schedule attracts and helps retain higher quality teachers. 

According to a We Are Teachers article, Colorado’s District 27J went from a handful of applicants to receiving over 100 applications per posting (including special ed and secondary math positions) after switching to a four-day schedule. 

The candidates were also more qualified and had master’s degrees or special certifications. On top of all of that, the turnover rate for teachers dropped from 21% to 13% that year.

Cost Savings

One of the biggest arguments made for the shortened school week is that it will save money for the district. Proponents say the schedule reduces overhead when you eliminate a full day of bus transportation, food service, and maintenance and operations.

After the Duval County School District in Jacksonville, Fla. moved to the four-day schedule, they saved 0.7%. While that sounds like a measly return, it actually meant a $7 million reduction in spend for the district. 

Improved Work-Life Balance

District 27J in Colorado noticed a large drop in teacher turnover after transitioning to a four-day school week, and this likely attributed to a greater sense of work-life balance. 

According to a study conducted in 2018 by the Office of National Statistics in Great Britain, teachers do 20% of their work (10 hours or more) before school, after school and on weekends. 

The extra day offers teachers and staff the room to run errands, make personal appointments, complete work-related training or planning. They can also choose to relax, travel, or connect with friends and family. 

Built-In Training Time

Each year, educators are required to complete a certain amount of training. Often, teachers have to request a substitute to cover them while they are away for training sessions. With a four-day school week, teachers could attend training without any concern on missing in-class time with their students. 

The Cons

The Schedule is Inequitable

Sure. A shorter week sounds like an A+ idea for school districts and teachers. However, critics of the four-day school week find it problematic in its inequity, particularly for lower income families.

In many American households, the adults work eight-hour days at least five days a week; some parents have more than one job to make ends meet. By moving to a four-day school week, a district inadvertently places working parents in a position of doling out more money for child care. And not every family can afford additional child care. 

In addition, low income families rely on public schools for nearly half of their meals. If food service is eliminated one day each week, those children could miss out on breakfast and lunch as a result.

The Cost Savings is Minimal for Most

Opponents have found that while some larger districts may find overhead savings, they warn that most districts do not. This is attributed to one main thing: educator pay and benefits. 
This line item accounts for 65% of all educational spending. A common misconception with projections is that educator pay and benefits could be cut by ⅕, and this hasn’t been the case for most districts.

Longer Days are Tough on Younger Students

When a school switches to a four-day schedule, it adds up to an hour and a half to the school day. Imagine a five-year-old Kindergartner trying to focus on school work for nine hours. It’s asking a lot.

A Lack of Supervision Creates Problems

One study published by the Economics of Education Review found a correlation between the four-day school week schedule and a rise in juvenile crime. In some areas where a shortened schedule was implemented, property crime by juveniles increases by 20%. This is caused by a lack of supervision on the day the students are not in school.

Read More About the 4-Day School Week Schedule

If you’re interested in doing more research on this topic, there are plenty of scholarly articles or opinion pieces written by industry thought leaders. Here are a handful of great options to choose from.

Juvenile Crime and the Four-Day School Week

Impact of a 4-Day School Week on Student Academic Performance, Food Insecurity, and Youth Crime

What Savings are Produced by Moving to a Four-Day School Week?

What Do We Actually Know about the Four-Day School Week? 

Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week

The Intrigue of a Four-Day School Week is Undeniable

It’s obvious why so many educators rally behind the idea of a four-day school week. Any school administration certainly loves the potential for cost savings on top of gaining top talent, and teachers would benefit from the extra time to take care of personal tasks or relax. But there are two sides to every coin.

Opponents see a condensed school schedule as detrimental in several key areas. From the inequity the schedule creates for lower income families to a rise in juvenile crime, there’s no shortage of things that can go wrong if a district transitions to a shorter school week.

Reach out to colleagues who have been through a schedule transition. Ask them about what worked best for their district and what didn’t go so great. 

Don’t know someone who has gone through the process? Join Reddit and become a member of the Education subreddit. There, you can ask questions and chat with other education professionals on a whole host of topics.

Whichever side of the fence you land on, it’s important to weigh each option with considerable time and care. 

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