The pandemic has changed plenty about education, and it has leaders going back to some old ideas too. We’ve been hearing talk of the four-day school week for decades, and remote and hybrid schooling practices, as well as discussions of the four-day work week, have put the topic back on the table.
So what’s the latest? The teacher on the teacher team at Teach Starter (they’re the ones creating and curating resources for elementary school teachers to use in the classroom), did a deep dive into the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Here’s what the newest research says about the pros and cons of a four-day school week.
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Who Has a Four-Day School Week?
COVID sent many districts in the country into a four-day system with kids at home at least one day of the week for the janitorial staff to disinfect classrooms between cohorts of students. But even before coronavirus hit the United States, the four-day school week had begun to take hold. According to data from 2019 — before the pandemic began — some 1,600 schools have adopted the model in districts spread across 24 states from Oklahoma to Idaho.
In states like Colorado, the four-day school week is now in use at more than half of all districts, and it represents the amount of in-school time for 40 percent of the districts in New Mexico and Oregon. The research shows the bulk of districts that have adopted the altered schedule are smaller and more rural in nature.
Typically to make it work, districts close their doors to students on Fridays but extend the school days Monday through Thursday to ensure instructional time isn’t lost. Rather than the 180 days of education (give or take) mandated in most states, students in four-day-a-week schools typically attend 148 days in all.
Curious which country has the longest school day or the shortest? Check out school schedules around the world!
Reasons for the 4-Day School Week
While reasons vary from district to district, there are three main reasons schools have for making a move from five days to four:
- Teacher recruitment
- Reducing student absenteeism
Benefits of a Four-Day School Week
Although studies of the four-day week have been done over the years, 2021 saw the release of data from the widest-reaching analysis of four-day school weeks ever done (a PDF download is required, however, it is free). Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and undertaken by researchers at the RAND Corporation, the analysis offers a look at the drawbacks and benefits of a four-day school week.
In addition to analyzing student test scores from four- and five-day districts in six different states over the course of nearly a decade, the researchers administered thousands of surveys to secondary students and the parents of elementary schoolers in 36 districts, half who have a four-day schedule and half with a traditional five-day week. Finally, researchers interviewed more than 400 teachers, administrators, parents, and students in three states where a significant number of districts have a four-day school week.
Among the benefits of a four-day school week that they found:
- Parents and students were largely happy with the four-day week and valued the extra day of time spent together and increased flexibility. The four-day week got a thumbs up from 69 percent of parents and 85 percent of kids.
- Students in four-day week schools had more free time overall than their peers at five-day week schools, even with the increased hours four days a week. The four-day-a-week kids had more time for sports, chores, and hobbies, as well as spending more time on homework than their peers.
- Elementary schoolers in four-day week schools got more sleep than their peers. This increased sleep time did not carry over into middle and high school.
- Districts realized cost savings — albeit small ones — which could be used to maintain the level of instructional expenses in the face of revenue shortages.
- Most teachers in the four-day week schools saw the schedule as a “job perk.”
- Administrators said the four-day week was useful in teacher recruitment.
The Robert Wood Johnson and RAND study isn’t the only one to take a look at the four-day week and come up with benefits. Other studies have found:
- Improved morale among school staff members
Drawbacks of a Four-Day School Week
So does all this mean the four-day school week is the way of the future? Not so fast. While it’s well-received in some districts, the Robert Wood Johnson and RAND analysis found it’s not perfect. There are drawbacks to kids attending school just four days a week, including:
- Despite student absenteeism being a reason use for switching to a four-day week at some schools, the schedule change had no effect on absenteeism.
- Student achievement in schools that switched to a four-day week did not grow as quickly as it did in schools that maintained a five-day week.
- A comparison of English language arts and math test scores showed that students on the four-day school week have lower scores, over time, when compared with peers on a five-day schedule.
And the new study isn’t the only one to find cracks in the surface of this system. Other studies have found:
- Mothers of children are often forced out of the workplace to care for their children on the day off from school — something we saw amplified by the pandemic.
- An increase in juvenile crime is realized in some areas when kids are out of school for an extra day.
The Future of the Four-Day School Week
Will more schools move to the four-day school week? With increasing staff shortages, it’s certainly possible. We’re already seeing an increase in schools opting for virtual instruction one day a week to keep up.
What does the schedule look like where you are? Are four-day weeks being discussed?
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