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Should Your State Switch to a Four-Day School Week?

While the five-day school week remains the norm across most of the country, an estimated 560 districts (primarily rural) in 25 states are experimenting with a four-day school week as a way to save money, says the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). More than half of those districts are in Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma, and Oregon. Most participating schools operate on a Monday-through-Thursday schedule, although some operate Tuesdays through Fridays. To make up for the extra day off, the districts extend the school days by 60 to 90 minutes.

Why the Change to a Four-Day School Week?

In August 2018, Colorado School District 27J switched to a four-day week, joining nearly 100 other districts in the state that operate on this schedule. (Currently, 55 percent of Colorado’s 178 school districts have four-day school weeks.) District 27J’s 18,000 students now attend school Tuesday through Friday. According to the district, the change:

  • Helps recruit and retain quality teachers
  • Creates budget efficiencies allowing the district to reallocate resources to items “more critical to our primary purpose”
  • Allows time for more teacher development
  • Increases instructional time and minimizes staff disruptions
  • Has created a “clean, clear, and concise” schedule that’s easier for families to manage

How Does It Affect Performance?

Contrary to conventional wisdom, a shorter school week may actually increase rather than harm student performance, says at least one study published in the MIT Press Journal Education Finance and Policy. Researchers tracked students in 14 four-day-week schools and they found that combined math scores had increased two years after the switch to the new schedule.

According to the NCSL, the motivation behind switching to a four-day school week is usually cost savings. While the amount saved may be “minimal” (average savings range from 0.4 percent to 2.5 percent of the budget), cash-strapped school districts welcome any savings. The shorter school week also tends to increase attendance and helps attract qualified teachers, who might prefer the new schedule.

Opponents claim that longer school days are tough for students (especially young students), challenging for working parents, and harmful to at-risk youth and youth who rely on school-supplied breakfasts and lunches.

One District’s Experience

PBS News, in partnership with Education Week, sent a writer to Bayard, New Mexico, to interview educators, parents, and students after Cobre Consolidated School District completed one year of a four-day school week.

While the district reported higher overall reading and math test scores for the year, the effect on students who struggle academically and can benefit from extra class time wasn’t clear. One sixth-grade teacher noted that having an extra day allowed her to rest and recover, and “made my classroom and my teaching that much better, because my lesson plans were better, more in-depth.”

The town’s librarian, on the other hand, said that although she increased youth programming on Friday, she didn’t see a big increase in attendance. But she says, she did see many parents dropping their kids off for hours, unattended, while they worked.

Most surprising, perhaps, was feedback from one student, who wasn’t a fan of the change when it started and still prefers a five-day school week. “I love my teacher, and I love my friends … I want to stay with them as long as I can.”

Four-Day School Week: Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down?

What do you think about a shorter school week? Would you use the extra day to travel more during the school year or enrich your child’s in-school learning with educational excursions or activities? Or, does the prospect of a four-day school week simply make you anxious about having to line up childcare for an extra day? Would a four-day school week help or hinder your child’s education?

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