The 4-day school week: Discussing the pros and cons

The idea of a 4-day work week has been a hot discussion during the current ‘great resignation’. After the pandemic that the world faced, a lot of people are realizing the importance of a work/life balance. Seeing the better options they have at the workplace. This idea is now becoming a more common term in the education industry. How about a 4-day school week? Would this sort of model work? Would it affect the students’ literacy rates negatively? Or perhaps the extra day off might help students to be more motivated in school?

There are many pros and cons we look at to see a clearer picture of this concept. This will help us to understand why some schools are adopting it. 

The concept of a 4-day school week

Interestingly, this concept is not new or due to the effects of covid-19. Some schools started offering a 4-day school week to try and get teachers to apply to their schools. Especially when they weren’t very close to major cities.  

Ron Hendrix, superintendent of the small district with just more than 1,500 students, stated “There’s no nightlife, there’s really not anything to pull them here when they could go to Albuquerque, which is an hour away”. This is just one example of a district trying to combat teacher vacancies. 

Between 1999 and 2019 the number of districts offering 4-day school weeks grew from 108 to 662. After Covid-19, this rose to 1,600 schools in 24 states. Thompson, Gunter & Co found that usually, this sort of school schedule was more financially motivated. It remained to be adopted more for the small, rural districts. 

is the 4-day school week best for your school?

In the US, each state has a required number of days that students have to be in school a year. States that have lower requirements had an easier task. Typically, a 4-day school week consisted of Fridays being an off day, and Monday to Thursday having an increase of time in the school. On average, it was an extra hour than an average school day.

However, the school days were still fewer. A 4-day school week average was only 148 school days per year whilst the usual 5-day school week came to 180. To counter this problem, certain schools like Socorro Consolidated Schools made Friday to be more focused on sports or extracurricular activities. The school building would even stay open. Teachers were not required to work that day. Instead encouraged to teach a class that they were passionate about. A teacher, for example, may teach a class on sewing for a few weeks.

The benefits of a 4-day school week

Some state that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. We take a look to see what exactly are the benefits and how they are helpful to the whole school community.

Lower financial costs for the schools

Some districts that started the 4-day school week before covid-19 happened were mainly due to trying to lower the financial burden. When the building is only being used 4 days a week, this lowered the utility bills significantly. 

Other costs such as transportation costs for the buses plus maintenance and driver salaries were reduced. Schools that had breakfast and lunch programs saw their costs reduced by 20% after adopting this new schedule. They also saved costs for the cafeteria and custodial workers. 

less financial costs for 4-day school week

Certain smaller districts also had generally higher-than-average-per-pupil costs. Having fewer school days helped these smaller districts to handle the yearly school budget better. 

Certain districts have shown that when it comes to the cost, not much was saved. They had hoped for more. According to a study in 2011 from the Education Commission of the States, ranging from 0.4% to 2.5%. The original perception was that school expenses would be reduced by 20%. A 4-day school week did save costs but when it came to teacher salaries, this stayed the same. Teachers worked the same number of hours as a 5-day school week. Some schools didn’t shift the hours and teachers still came in on Friday. However, that day gave them the time to do other important tasks. This includes grading, staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences, or even offering help to their students who needed it. 

However, no matter how small the savings are, it does help. They can be “reallocated to other important areas, such as teacher salaries and academic or social-emotional services for the students,” said Andrea Phillips, a policy researcher at RAND Corp.

Improving both teacher and student morale

One of the main reasons for introducing a 4-day school week is to give that extra day off. Both students and teachers can rest. Being able to have that extra day may help to lower their stress levels. This then can lead to a higher motivation and productivity rate. 

The Crutcho Public Schools saw the 5th day as an opportunity to provide extra mental health services for students. Usually, on Friday, they offer group therapy for middle-school girls who have been struggling with trauma. 

An extra day off can also encourage more extra curriculum activities and volunteer work. Student can thereby increase their hobbies and outside interests. Some schools even offer enriching activities, such as cooking classes. For older students, it could give them more opportunities for internships or after-school jobs. Athletes can use this extra day to focus on their sport. This can lead them to have more time to focus on school work as well. 

Students that perhaps have trouble with reading or math could get in-school tutoring to help them improve in these areas. For the Crutcho Public Schools, this is what they implemented for the 5th day and it has helped these students. 

Having this extra day off could open more opportunities for the students. It can also give them the energy and motivation to participate. As stated by Amy Britt, Superintendent at Bakersfield R-IV School District in Gainesville, Missouri, “They feel more prepared for the week. That has had a huge impact on teaching and learning as far as the quality of the instruction.”

Attracting new teacher applicants and fewer resignations

Another main reason that certain districts started this schedule was to try and attract new applicants for the school year. For schools that were perhaps far from the city or didn’t seem too appealing to teachers, especially new graduates, offering a 4-day school week was a benefit they promoted. 

how schools can attract new teachers

As an example, Socorro Consolidated Schools in New Mexico had trouble attracting new teachers during recruitment. Hence they offered a 4-day school week. Ron Hendrix states how “When you’ve got young teachers graduating from teacher schools, Socorro is not a place that is going to attract them”. 

Andrea Phillips states how, “It emerged as a real competitive advantage, particularly for rural schools who were having difficulties in attracting talented teachers — or teachers at all”.

Due to the effects of covid-19, teachers have been wanting to have a better work-life balance. The truth is that teachers are suffering from extreme burnout, with many teachers quitting in recent years. Recent studies have shown that more than half of teachers want to leave the profession entirely. To try and tackle the teacher shortage, perhaps offering them an extra day off would help. 

Improvement of attendance and academic results

For students, having this extra day off allows them to do many things. They can rest or participate in hobbies. This in turn will help them to be more focused on school as well as be less disruptive in classes. It can even help to ensure they are attending the classes. Some districts have shown this once switching to the 4-day school week. 

advantage of 4-day school week

For example, the Melstone School District reported that their attendance improved as much as 20% over a two-year period. The Chattooga County School District also reported an improvement in attendance. 

To showcase how academic performance increased, the Oakridge School District reported by Superintendent Don Kordosky stated how test scores improved after two years. Peach County in Fort Valley has also seen a gradual improvement in the graduation rate as well. 

Since these schools are able to provide a more customized learning setting, this enabled them to “give students more opportunities,” said the former principal of Gaywille-Volin High School, Tom Rice. Tom also stated how the South Dakota High School saw improvements in both absenteeism and discipline referrals. 

Positive effects on the families 

Andrea Phillips said that, overall, there was a “really positive sentiment about the four-day school week” as it allowed families to spend more time together. Parents could also arrange doctor appointments on this extra day without their child actually missing a day of school. 

However, Phillips also stated how more research is needed, especially for the most vulnerable families. This schedule may be more difficult for working parents. They would have to arrange child care and spend more on meals for their kids for this extra day. 

Since the introduction of this new schedule a few years ago, it shows how it is a positive action. Not just the faculty, but the students as well. 

The negative effects of the 4-day school week

There are main reasons why school districts are still reluctant to introduce this schedule to their schools. Quite big concerns too. We look and see what exactly are these concerns to understand the situation better. 

Extra burden on the families

A 4-day school week can be extremely difficult for working parents. It can also add up to more costs for them too. Costs for child-care, help or other classes would rise. This ensures the child is not left home alone. School, even though it is not a daycare center, is known as a safe environment for their children. If they don’t go to school, then they need to be somewhere else and safe. 

For parents that are unable to pay for this extra childcare led to one parent having to quit their job. They needed to stay at home to take care of the kids. In most cases, this would usually be the mothers. In a 2019 study, there was an 11% decrease in employment for married mothers with children between the ages of 5-13.  

Childcare wouldn’t be the only extra cost they had to ensure. With their children having to be at home for an extra day, they suddenly had to think of the meals. Meals that were usually taken care of by the schools would now be the parent’s responsibility. With the rising inflation and costs, these extra costs will definitely add more stress to these parents. This is definitely something any school would not want. 

The best advice for districts and schools considering a 4-day school week is to definitely get feedback from parents. You can understand their concerns and whether they would be in favor of this schedule. 

Would your child be left behind?

This is another major concern that both parents and the school has. If students only went to school for 4 days a week, would that mean the student’s literacy rate would decrease?

disadvantages of 4-day school week

Certain districts have been reading studies that have been done. This helps them to determine if this new schedule would benefit or hinder their students. The Economics of Education Review stated how districts with only 30 hours of weekly class time saw a drop in math and English. Normal schools had 36 hours a week. 

However, depending on the different states, there were conflicting reports. An example was in Colorado, students in a 4-day school week had higher scores for maths and English, whereas, in Oregon, they found students had a decline. 

There can be a lot of factors that could cause these inconsistencies. In the end, schools have to determine what would be the best situation for their students. No school wants to leave any child behind in their education. 

Not preparing students properly for the real world

In the UK, the 4-day school week was brought up in parliament and there was a bit of an uproar. Parenting expert Kirsty Ketley stated how “a 4-day school week, in theory, sounds lovely but not at all practical.”

One point brought up by a viewer watching ‘Good Morning Britain’ tweeted ‘how was this going to prepare them for work?”. Granted there are some companies that are now adopting a 4-day work week, but it is not the norm still. Only a few countries are piloting this schedule. Those who have the 4-day school week and then have to work 5 days a week could be a shock. They may suddenly feel a lot of pressure and be unable to handle having that extra day of responsibility. 

Should schools start adopting the 4-day school week?

Creating the 4-day school week does seem to have some great benefits. It can help solve problems schools are facing but needs to address important concerns as well. Perhaps coming up with a system where they meet in the middle would be better?

One City Schools in Wisconsin took a slightly different approach and just offered teachers to work 4 days a week. Meanwhile, the students still continued to go to school for 5 days. This seemed to find a middle ground with concerns brought up. It could be a starting point for a bigger discussion on this developing topic. 

If you’re a school or district considering the 4-day school week, do ensure one thing. That you are discussing this change with everyone in your faculty as well as the students and parents. Studies have shown that a majority are positive about this schedule. However, with a big change like this that can impact the students’ future, everyone needs to be involved. 

What do you think about this concept? We would love to know your thoughts!

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