How Does the Four-Day School Week Affect Students?

More and more districts across the country are shifting from the traditional five-day school week to a four-day schedule. While this may seem like a shortcut, these school days are longer and more involved than those in the typical five-day schedule.

The four-day week is not a new idea; legislative policies have allowed for such rescheduling since the 1930s. However, until recently, it was exceedingly rare. The initial reasoning for the shorter school week was primarily financial: Lowering public education budgets by saving a day of staff pay and reducing utility costs is attractive for financially strapped school districts. Surprisingly, though, the recent increase in four-day school weeks has revealed other benefits, including improvements to teacher and student morale as well as increased achievement scores.

Educational researchers and lawmakers have been weighing the pros and cons of this truncated school week, but it is difficult to make definitive conclusions due to a lack of clear data. Still, the possibilities are compelling. Students in an online Master of Arts in Educational Administration program engage in this discussion and decide for themselves if implementing the four-day school week is a good idea.

Financial and Logistical Aspects of the Four-Day School Week

The primary benefit of a shorter school week is quite clear: reduced costs. Schools can save a significant percentage of their expenses by cutting out a day of bus drivers, transportation costs, school lunches and all non-teacher staff salaries. Even utilities can be a major expense, and the four-day week can cut these costs by 20 percent.

However, in most situations teachers must still work a five-day schedule. The extra day goes to paperwork, grading, lesson planning, collaboration with other teachers and professional development.

One concern for parents who work Monday through Friday is paying for an extra day of childcare. (With a four-day schedule, students may no longer need afternoon daycare Monday through Thursday because the school days are longer.) This trade-off may be easier in rural areas as opposed to urban areas where childcare can be more expensive and more difficult to find. For these and other reasons, the majority of school systems that have adopted the four-day school week are in rural areas.

Benefits of the Four-Day School Week

Although there is not enough data for a conclusive verdict, early studies of the four-day week show a significant improvement in student and teacher morale, student achievement scores and attendance — dropout rates also improve. Students and teachers alike report feeling better and more engaged. This positive engagement should lead to more effective learning, which in turn leads to better assessment scores.

Another potential benefit of the four-day school week is the extra time for teacher collaboration and professional development. Although theorists and practitioners have devised many new instructional methods, it takes time for teachers to learn them. Teachers rarely get free time to study these developments during the traditional five-day schedule, so freeing up a day each week allows them to study and integrate new instructional techniques.

Challenges of the Four-Day School Week

Most of the challenges facing the four-day school week involve keeping young children engaged during longer school days; younger children generally have shorter attention spans than teenagers.

Another consideration is how well students retain new information over the longer three-day weekend — immediate repetition is often best for learning new material.

Finally, parents who work but cannot afford daycare will have a hard time finding enough extracurricular activities to fill an entire day.

However, the four-day school week offers a number of surprising benefits, both financial and academic. The drawbacks need consideration, and more research is necessary to provide conclusive data. Candidates for a master’s degree in educational administration have the unique opportunity of studying this scheduling model in its early stages.

Learn more about the CSUSM online MA in Educational Administration program.


The Conversation: Does a shorter week help kids with their learning?

NCSL: Four-Day School Weeks

U.S. News & World Report: The 4-Day School Week: A Work in Progress

Los Angeles Times: Education reform: Shorter week, more learning

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