Why US schools are moving towards four-day school weeks
How can schools encourage independent thinking? Source: Shutterstock

Last year, it was announced that some schools in the Colorado school district would be switching to four-day school weeks.

Today, 560 school districts in 25 states in the US have also followed suit, with the highest in Colorado (55 percent), followed by New Mexico (43 percent), Idaho (38 percent), and Oregon (32 percent).

These schools have dropped either Monday or Friday from the normal school week, lengthening the school days to make up for the lost time.

But why are they doing so and what are the benefits?

Financial reasons


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The majority of schools who are making the change to a reduced school week is to save money.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Research shows that the maximum possible cost savings for districts on a four-day week is 5.43 percent, but average savings range from 0.4 to 2.5 percent.”

This may seem small, but as WeAreTeachers reported, “In Duval County School District in Jacksonville, Florida, moving to a four-day week produced only a paltry-sounding 0.7 percent savings. But that figure translated to a budget reduction of US$7 million.”

Schools suffering from financial constraints can also lower their overhead costs such as bus transport, food services and building maintenance by switching to a reduced school week.

Teacher equity

The four-day school week is also meant to help retain current teachers, recruit more teachers, and give them more time for professional development.

Many schools have noticed a significant boost in teacher recruitment as well as retention ever since they shortened the school week.

Keeping teachers on is a problem in the US as salaries are not rising, so they often use schools as stepping stones to further their careers. But the four-day work week can attract them to stay on.

According to WeAreTeachers, “After Colorado’s District 27J switched to four-day school weeks, their recruiting prospects jumped from a handful of applicants to over 100 per opening.

“This includes what superintendent Chris Fiedler calls “harder vacancies,” such as special ed and secondary math positions.

“In addition, the pool included more highly qualified applicants with master’s degrees and special certifications. Most impressive, the district’s teacher turnover rate dropped from over 21 percent to just 13 percent this year.”

NeatoDay stated, “Teachers are in the building an hour longer than the students at the secondary level and 90 minutes more at the elementary level. The days may be longer, but they provide educators with more time for collaboration and planning, embedding professional development into the school schedule.”

Family and personal time

A three-day weekend allows families to spend more time together, as well as for more time for doctor’s appointments or special classes.

Older students can use that time to build their resumes, apply for college, or even do paid work or internships.

Teachers benefit too as they have greater work-life balance, giving them time to spend with their own families or to complete personal chores.

The drawbacks

While a three-day weekend may sound simply awesome to some kids, lower-income families may suffer as a result.

WeAreTeachers stated, “Opponents of the four-day school week point out the difficulties for lower income families. Finding childcare for just one day a week is often difficult and costly.

“And since most adults work five days a week, chances are that many children will simply find themselves in non-school “school” settings, like daycares, on the remaining day. It’s not exactly the idyllic three-day weekend that proponents of the adjusted schedule put forth.”

Many children from lower-income families also depend on free or reduced school meals, and losing one day of these meals can be difficult for them.

The increased length of the school days may also be hard for younger children in elementary school.

Academic outcomes of four-day school weeks have not yet been officially studied, so it’s still uncertain if they are good for students’ learning.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reported,An unpublished study in Oregon showed a temporary decline in academic performance among students who switched to a four-day schedule, particularly among minority, low-income, and special needs students.

“Four years after the transition, student performance in four-day schools was not significantly different from that of five-day schools. These results make it difficult to draw conclusions about the effects on student outcomes.”

In Colorado, another study found an increase in juvenile crime. “The authors estimate that shifting to a four-day schedule increases juvenile arrests for property crime—especially larceny— by 73 percent, but there was no change in drug-related or violent crimes.

“The increase in property crime was observed on all days of the week, not just spiking on the day when school is not in session.”

While there are certainly pros and cons to this new school schedule, and more educational research needs to be done, it appears to be a growing trend. Time will tell if it will die down or continue to gain traction across US schools.

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