Could 4-day weeks catch on in schools?
Monday, August 26, 2019
Imagine having the option to schedule your school weeks as four 10-hour days instead of five eight-hour days. Earlier this summer, We Are Teachers blogger Elizabeth Mulvahill reported that 25 states are currently testing four-day school weeks.
What started as a logistical solution for rural school districts is now gaining popularity in both suburban and urban areas. According to Mulvahill, "Research by the National Conference of State Legislatures estimates 560 school districts in 25 states have at least one school with a four-day schedule. Leading the charge are Colorado (55%), New Mexico (43%), Idaho (38%), and Oregon (32%)."
Of all the reasons to make the switch, many school districts cite financial savings as their top motivator. The move to a four-day week can bring about some financial savings, particularly in the areas of building operations/maintenance, food service, and transportation. According to this 2011 Education Commission of the States report, it is estimated that districts that have gone this route have seen reductions in their operating budgets of between 0.4% to 2.5%.
This may not seem like a lot, but Mulvahill asked readers to consider this: "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 $7 million."
Another reason to make the switch to a four-day week is teacher retention. Many teachers find a four-day workweek attractive for a variety of reasons, including quality of life and decreased daycare expenses for their own children, who may not yet be school-aged.
A four-day workweek can increase teacher retention rates and lead to a larger pool of applicants applying for jobs. According to Mulvahill, "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."
For all the pros to such a move, there is another side to this debate. Opponents of the idea cite equity concerns, particularly for low-income families who would struggle to find child care options for their children on days when school is not in session. Low-income children would likely end up in non-school options on days off while parents work, thus widening the achievement gap over time.
Additionally, low-income children who rely on nourishment from the food service program would be further disadvantaged. Opponents also worry that younger children would have a difficult time with a longer school day, such as 10 hours. Even with breaks added, there could be long-lasting effects on student attitudes and achievement as a result of the shift.
When it comes to academics, no large-scale studies have been undertaken to show the impact of a four-day schedule on student achievement. Smaller studies have been deemed inconclusive.
For example, According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, "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."
As a high school principal, I see the allure of a four-day week as more beneficial for adults, not children at this time. It is obvious that teachers and other staff members would see increased opportunities with such a schedule, I’m not yet convinced that it is the right move for students.
For that reason, my school will stick with a five-day week until more information becomes available on this growing trend.
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