Why Colorado’s four-day school week works
Is a four-day week the future of education? Source: Shutterstock

Children as young as six years old are struggling with depression, and teachers all over the country are taking to the streets to lobby for increased funding and better work conditions. Could a four-day school week help solve these problems?

Colorado School District 27J made national news when it officially cut Mondays from its school schedule in August 2018. District 27J receives one of the lowest levels of funding in the Denver metropolitan area and struggles to retain teachers as a result. 

But since switching to the new schedule, the district has enticed teachers from other districts to transfer to 27J. The transition also added US$1 million back into the district’s operating budget, part of which was spent on a Chromebook for every middle and high school student in the district.

Though the new schedule met mixed reviews from parents and community members, studies show the shorter week significantly improves the health and happiness of students and teachers.

Fast facts

  • Colorado schools must meet a minimum quota of 1,080 hours of instruction each school year.
  • The average school day on a modified schedule lasts for seven and a half to eight hours, compared to the standard six-hour day.
  • School districts looking to switch to a schedule of less than 160 days must obtain approval from Colorado’s Commissioner of Education.
  • Not all schools within a district operate on the same schedule.
  • Schools on a four-day week schedule can save as much as 20 percent on transportation costs and food service programmes.

A brief history of Colorado’s four-day school week 

In Colorado, four-day weeks and schedules shorter than 160 days aren’t new. In fact, some Colorado schools have operated on a shorter schedule since the 1980-1981 academic school year.

In 1980, a state law was passed that allowed school districts to operate on alternative schedules. That same academic year, three school districts moved to a four-day school week. The following academic year, 12 school districts made the switch.

Unsurprisingly, for many school districts, cutting costs was the main reason behind the switch. The state’s information manual acknowledges that some schools cut a day from the school week due to the 2008 energy crisis.

Spreading like wildfire

As of the 2019-2020 school year, 109 school districts in Colorado, which account for over 60 percent of the state’s school districts, have switched to a shorter schedule. Just one year after District J27 adopted the new schedule, five additional school districts applied to switch.

The state department of education’s official manual on the four-day school week reports that this new schedule is immensely popular among students and teachers. Between 80 and 90 percent of community members prefer the four-day school week for many reasons, including more time to spend with family, more time to plan lessons, and increased teacher recruitment and retention rates.

Recent studies on the four-day school week found that a shorter school week also improves student performance. One study found that more fourth- and fifth-grade students in rural districts operating on a four-day week scored at the proficient or advanced level in mathematics and reading tests:

“These positive effects…suggest there is little evidence that switching to a four-day week harms student performance,” the study concludes.

Consider the students

Students all around the world are feeling the pressure to do well in school. In England, 65 percent of students aged 12 to 16 list school as their primary source of stress, compared to 83 percent of students aged 16 and older. In Australia, 26 percent of kids report school is one of the main sources of their anxiety. In America, students as young as eight years old worry about making good grades and getting into college.

School is taking its toll on their lives outside of the classroom, too. Nearly half of American students experience difficulty sleeping, with one in three children experiencing regular headaches.

Cutting a day from the school week would give students more time to play, bond with their family and engage in extracurricular activities, including sports, volunteering and working.

Source: Shutterstock

Consider the parents

Not all parents are thrilled about the change, however – especially those who work on Mondays.

To accommodate parents’ need for childcare services and relieve some of the financial burden, daily childcare services provided by District J27 have accompanied the new school week. This service currently costs US$30 per day, but a scholarship is available for low-income families which covers the cost.

The state department of education’s information manual acknowledges that childcare can be an issue, but the longer school day also reduces the time students spend home alone after school:

“If students stayed until 4:30, the latchkey problem could be reduced. The fifth day could then be used for family, recreational or community activities. In other words, the positive characteristics experienced by small districts might hold potential for larger districts as well.”

A page from Colorado’s book

Some parents, like Brody Mathews, think schools should stick to the standard five-day schedule:

“It’s what pretty much every human on earth works or goes to school for,” Mathews told NBC News.

Though Mathew’s exasperation is understandable, it begs the question, why does every human work or go to school five days a week? Why shouldn’t employers also adopt a four-day work week?

New Zealand business owner Andrew Barnes asked the same question and experimented with the four-day work week at his company, Perpetual Garden. He found that the shorter week boosted productivity and employee morale to such an extent that he decided to switch permanently.

Not only does the 9-to-5 model take a toll on the mental health of working-class families, it impacts the environment as well. The evidence is in: if we hope to prevent a climate change catastrophe within the next 11 years, we have to end the unchecked growth attitudes which form the core of capitalism.

“The need to keep the wheels of capitalism well-oiled takes precedence even against a backdrop of fires, floods and hurricanes,” writes Phil McDuff for The Guardian.

The five-day work week helps oil those wheels. If a four-day school week can reduce transportation costs (and, theoretically, carbon emissions) by as much as 20 percent, imagine if school districts around the world switched to this new schedule.

In a perfect world, schools and employers around the world will follow in District 27J’s footsteps, slashing their own operating costs and helping prevent the worst effects of climate change in the process.

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