The concept of a four-day school week keeps gaining traction as it’s adopted across the U.S. While it’s now a reality for some districts, it remains a curiosity for the rest. In this blog post, we explore the benefits and challenges of adopting a four-day K‑12 school week. Plus, we look at ways to gain similar advantages by improving operational efficiency even if your district isn’t likely to adopt a shortened school week in the near future.
In this post, you’ll learn:
- How States Implement a Shortened Schedule
- Pros and Cons of a Four-Day School Week
- Achieving Time- and Cost-Savings in a Five-Day Week
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.
How States Implement a Shortened Schedule
Currently in the U.S., 25 states 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.
The minimum instructional time required by each state governs school calendars. Funding formulas require schools receive less money 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.
While the administrative burden associated with switching to a four-day school week varies by state, the change can have a major impact on staff, teachers, and families. These effects factor heavily into any discussion about whether it’s the right move for any given district.
Pros and Cons of a Four-Day School Week
Districts making the switch to a shortened school week can realize positive improvements, but tradeoffs exist. Dropping a day from the traditional school week represents a significant change. Many families depend on schools to operate on a similar schedule to their five-day work week, and others rely on schools to help them deal with difficult situations like food insecurity. Inequity is a real concern for any district considering a major shift in their operations.
An alternative tactic districts can consider is how to get the benefits that have them eyeing a shortened schedule without making a change to their traditional five-day week. Improving efficiency can help districts save time and money, helping them give back to teachers so they can better serve their students. In the list of pros and cons below, we’ll also include ideas for achieving the pros without cutting a day from the schedule.
The Pros of a Four-Day School Week
ATTRACT 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.
How to Improve K‑12 Staffing in a Five-Day Week
One of the best ways to address the teacher shortage is to hang on to the ones you have. A smooth onboarding process can be your key to success. Offering teachers and staff a convenient online experience can help them better prepare for their first day on the job, leading to better retention in the long run—up to 82% according to Glassdoor.
Improving your onboarding process with an easier, tech-forward approach can help your team save time and money while reducing recruiting pressure by contributing to lower turnover.
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, Florida moved to the four-day schedule, they saved 0.7%. While that sounds like a small return, it actually meant a $7 million reduction in spend for the district.
How to Save Money with Cloud-Based K‑12 Software
Budgets are always tight—that’s just a fact of life in education. But the right software solution can help your funding go further by harnessing the full potential of your staff’s resources and energy. The best part is, cloud-based K‑12 software maximizes efficiency by giving you powerful software without the need to house, maintain, and secure costly on-site servers.
A cloud-based K‑12 ERP solution, for example, can help your finance and HR teams spot needs and issues before they become big problems. This could mean getting in front of a staffing shortage at a particular school or adapting and adjusting quickly to spiking supply costs.
IMPROVE EMPLOYEES’ 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.
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.
How to Give Back More Time to K‑12 Teachers and Staff
Cutting down on meetings might be the lever most within reach when it comes to giving back more time to teachers and staff. Consider if you often walk out of meetings thinking, “Could that have been an email?” If so, you may already have a lot of room to give back time to teachers and staff without needing to drop a day from the schedule.
Giving time back helps teachers and staff focus more of their workday time and energy on students and their work tasks. That translates directly to leaving work on time more often and spending less time at home thinking about work. They gain more time to rest, recover, and balance their lives.
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 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 childcare—something many cannot afford.
In addition, some families experiencing food insecurity rely on public schools for nearly half of their meals. If nutrition 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 90 minutes to the school day. Imagine a five-year-old Kindergartner trying to focus on schoolwork for nine hours. That’s asking a lot.
Achieving Time- and Cost-Savings in a Five-Day School Week
Not every district wants to make the shift to a four-day school week, but saving time and money always makes good sense. Fortunately, the right technology can help districts realize many of the attractive benefits outlined in the pros above without dropping a day from the traditional five-day work week. In this blog we looked at a few of the pros and cons.
The next time a conversation comes up about the benefits of a four-day school week, consider sharing some ideas about achieving the pros without risking the cons. A five-day school week is still the reality for many districts across the U.S. Without a drastic change, that’s likely to continue. Districts can still direct energy toward ways to save time and money while reducing stress on their workforce and attracting top talent. Technology plays a crucial role here as it continues to give K‑12 teams more power to streamline operations, improve employees’ experience, and adapt to changes and uncertainties through sound data-driven decision making.
Get 5 Tips to Improve K‑12 Operational Efficiency
Make an impact right now whether your district operates on a four-day or five-day schedule with these actionable tips for success: