Several school districts across the United States and around the world are exploring the idea of implementing a 4-day school week. The experiments are producing mixed results, with rural districts seeing more positives from the change than urban and suburban ones.
The landscape of alternative schedules is changing in the educational world because there is more flexibility in the way that schools implementing learning days. Standard requirements in the United States is to have 180 days of learning that total about 1,000 hours. Therefore, schools can switch to a 4-day week because they can still meet the hourly requirement.
Students in a 4-day school week still receive the same amount of instruction time. It just happens over a longer day so that a three-day weekend is possible each week.
There are several advantages and disadvantages of 4-day school weeks to examine based on the results that districts are reporting from their efforts to implement this schedule.
List of the Advantages of 4-Day School Weeks
1. Schools can save up to 20% on some budget-line expenses with a 4-day week.
When schools move to a 4-day week, the goal is usually to reduce the amount of money that goes toward the transportation budget. You’re transporting students one less day per week, which means up to 20% of the cost of busing and other needs in that department can go away. Although there aren’t many other opportunities to save since the instructional hours are the same, some districts are saving up to $1,200 per student, per year because of this change.
The amount of money that could be saved for taxpayers across the United States if all 18,000+ public school systems moved to a 4-day week exceeds $4 billion per year.
2. It is easier to recruit teachers with a 4-day school week.
Teachers flocked to New Mexico when districts started launching 4-day school weeks because it gave them a real day off. The contact hours that these dedicated educational providers give to kids each day is just one part of their schedule. It is not unusual for them to bring work home, spending time on the weekend grading papers and taking care of additional duties. The districts that were authorized to make this change to their schedule saw an increase in the number of qualified applicants of up to 20% for open positions.
It was such a popular change for the school districts in New Mexico that the state had to stop the practice since no one knew at the time whether it would help or hinder student performance.
3. Districts can better plan for sports activities and after-school groups.
Extra-curricular activities are easier for school districts to plan when classes are on a 4-day schedule. Athletic practices typically happen in the afternoon each day, forcing schools to play games between Thursday-Sunday each week. Some districts must travel several hours by bus to reach some away games. Since there is one day completely free in the schedule thanks to this shift, planning events for that free day gives everyone more flexibility. Even clubs that meet after-school can come together on this free day instead of extending the amount of time spent on-campus after a long day of instruction.
This advantage reduces the number of missed classes or instructional opportunities that occur because of the travel requirements of student athletics.
4. Many parents are already working a flexed schedule.
The typical schedule for a school district operating on a 4-day week is either 7:30-5 or 8-5:30 each day. This structure helps parents who work regular business hours because it eliminates the daycare requirements that are necessary for younger children and an earlier release. Then older children can manage the home environment on their own while their parents are at work on the extra day off.
Many parents are already working a flexed schedule over a 4-day period already. 15% of employers offer an alternative schedule like this already. Labor unions are pushing for this option as well, meaning some families could get a three-day weekend together.
5. It makes the after-school schedule easier to manage.
When school districts use a 5-day schedule to manage the instructional process, it creates a need for multiple transitions throughout the day. These times create distractions for students that can rob them of energy. Tired kids often struggle to control their emotions and reactions, which can lead to problems at home when there are extra-curricular activities like sports, reading groups, or scouting events to attend.
Even though the day is longer for students in a 4-day week, the reduction of transitions creates more energy to use after school. This advantage is one of the reasons why a majority of students say that the shorter week with longer days makes them feel happier about attending classes. There are fewer problems with student exhaustion.
6. Students quickly adjust to the new schedule.
Critics of the 4-day school week suggest that children can struggle to stay focused on learning during the longer days. Research from the districts that were early adopters of this policy shows that the results are very different. Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Colorado, and New Mexico consistently report fewer behavioral issues, better grades, and less time away from the classroom due to illness or tardiness with the compressed schedule. These advantages apply to students at any grade level in the K-12 spectrum.
It can lead to early mornings for students who live along the outskirts of a rural district, but there are still ways to fill that time. Many kids like to use the transportation time to finish their homework or do some reading.
7. Schools with a 4-day week spend more time in instruction.
If students transition four times during the day to different classes, lunch, and recess moments, then there can be up to 40 minutes of wasted time every day. That means you’re losing over three hours of instructional time per week walking to different places on campus. When schools move to a 4-day week, there are fewer transitions that take place. That means teachers can spend more time on specific subjects and lessons to ensure each student has an understanding of the information.
Every student demographic sees an increase in grades when the shift to a compressed schedule occurs. Some schools report that their teachers are adding 6-8 hours of direct contact instruction per week since there is less movement throughout the day.
8. Discipline issues improve at schools with a 4-day week.
School districts that implement a 4-day week see a significant decrease in the number of behavioral problems in their student body. The number of referrals can decline by as much as 70% in some areas. Although there are no research-based clues as to why this advantage exists, officials believe the reduction of transitions creates more consistency for children who struggle with changing environments. Teachers can keep engaged with learning opportunities, provide interesting experiments, or play learning games because lesson plans aren’t crunched into 45-minute time segments.
Students can also achieve more rest on the 4-day school week. The extra day off allows for some extra time to recharge. With less fatigue driving the decisions that kids make, their emotional state remains more balanced to create a positive atmosphere in the classroom.
9. Attendance rates improve in districts that use the 4-day school week.
The first school districts in the United States that implemented a 4-day school week discovered that attendance levels increased by 20% in just one year with the schedule change. Most of the schools were in rural areas, allowing families to work on chores at times that were convenient for them. There were fewer moments of needing to miss classes because of work that needed to happen on the farm.
It’s been over 20 years since the first school districts started implementing this alternative schedule. The research shows that this advantage remains consistent in almost all circumstances. Only urban districts see fewer improvements, but even they see a small boost in attendance.
10. Teachers miss fewer days when they work a 4-day schedule.
The restful benefits that students experience with a 4-day schedule at school also applies to teachers. Some districts had a decrease of substitute teacher needs of greater than 30%. The average teacher who uses five sick days during the year would use one fewer thanks to this alternative schedule. Since there is more flexibility to spend time with family and juggle the extra work that teachers have during the week, there are much higher levels of workplace satisfaction.
Teachers also found that the extra day off was useful for their ongoing educational requirements to maintain their licensing.
11. Students have higher grades in schools with a 4-day week.
Students have better grades in schools that use the alternative schedule listed here because it allows for different learning opportunities. Instead of using a lecture-based format where students must take notes to study at home, teachers can engage in small-group discussions and hands-on experiments to build knowledge. There is more time to incorporate different forms of media and content as teaching tools as well.
Although student performance is an individualized measurement that depends on a child’s unique engagement, the average grade goes up between 5% to 15% in districts with a 4-day week.
List of the Disadvantages of 4-Day School Weeks
1. Some schools don’t save any money with the 4-day week.
School districts are always looking for ways to save money, so reducing the need for transportation seems like a logical choice. Most schools spend the most on their busing needs. Although there are several examples where the final savings were upwards of 20%, some districts are only saving 5% or less with this transition. One district in Oregon, Morrow County, found that their cost-savings from making this switch was less than 2%.
The schools that tend to benefit the most from this shift are large, rural districts that have significant transportation needs. If parents are providing most of the transportation to-and-from school, then the savings here will be minimal.
2. Most people don’t receive a genuine day off with the alternative schedule.
Most kids don’t get to take an entire day off from school to get a three-day weekend with this alternative schedule. Since most districts try to plan athletic events during this off day, there could be a full day of driving to a game and back home. It is not unusual for teachers to take advantage of the extra day to schedule conferences. Administrators are usually on campus during the open fifth day to coordinate with districts that haven’t shifted to the 4-day week.
The concept of offering an extended weekend to everyone is an advantage that looks great on paper. When the reality of its implementation receives close examination, the results are not as advantageous.
3. Urban school districts may see cost increases with a 4-day schedule.
Only 1 out of every 10 schools that are using the 4-day schedule are in an urban environment. The reason why this idea tends to stay in rural areas is because of their natural isolation. Most city-based schools build more flexibility into their schedules so that students, teachers, and staff can build a routine that fits their daily needs. Urban schools usually have more events, athletic activities, and after-school groups that use the grounds. That means adding more time to four days during the week to accommodate these needs can result in higher expenses for large districts.
This disadvantage is the primary reason why some districts who went to the 4-day schedule decided to return to the traditional educational approach.
4. The 4-day school week usually benefits wealthy families only.
Parents might have fewer daycare responsibilities to juggle when schools go to a 4-day schedule, but the costs remain the same for the average household. Instead of watching students for 1-2 hours every day, families are trying to find providers that can take their child for an entire day. In the districts where a shift from five days to four takes place, only half of the parents or guardians receive approval from their employers to shift their schedule to match it. That means the families with higher household income levels or self-reliant, mature older children are the ones that typically see the financial benefits from this switch.
5. It’s more challenging for teens to find jobs with the alternative schedule.
There are specific work rules in place in the United States and around the world for teens. Kids must be of a certain age before a formal offer of employment is valid. The number of hours that someone can work on a school night is severely restricted. Although the extra day off creates an opportunity for longer hours on that one day, it may be impossible to find work that fits the Monday-Thursday schedule.
Schools can make adjustments for this issue by having work-study opportunities like a student newspaper. If a family needs the extra income for some reason, this disadvantage can have a devastating effect.
6. Some students do not react well to the longer school schedule.
Some students have a challenging time getting through a standard 6-hour day of instruction. Adding another 90 minutes to those expectations can cause behavioral issues to flare instead of settling down. The responsibilities of homework, longer days, and extra activities once the learning day is over can place a lot of pressure on children today. Some kids spend over 12 hours away from home on the 4-day schedule because of their busing requirements.
7. It can cause some students to need to wait for the bus in the dark.
Parents don’t always support the 4-day school week because it forces an early-morning bus pick-up. If school begins at 7:30 am and it is a 1-hour ride to reach the school, then a young child could be waiting at their stop at 6:15 am to make sure they don’t miss their ride. Since school happens over the winter, there is a significant period when the drop-off time will be in the dark.
Some students will also need to walk home from their bus stop in the dark during the winter months. For parents of K-4 students, this situation can make them feel extremely uncomfortable. It places the safety of their child into question in a variety of ways.
8. The 4-day week changes the approach to snow days.
If schools must cancel classes for weather-related events, then it can become challenging to make up the time within the constraints of the schedule. Some districts may need to extend their contact time deeper into the summer if their governing authority doesn’t grant a waiver for missing the allotted contact time.
Some schools can move to a 4-day school week without any problem because the schedule works well for a majority of families. Rural communities see some challenges to its implementation at times because of the early start for buses, but the benefits usually outweigh the problems.
Urban and suburban communities can struggle with the alternative schedule because of the professional requirements of each parent. Adding more time to the school day might reduce daycare costs, but it can also create an all-day problem with the extra free time on the fifth day.
Each district must take the time to examine all of the advantages and disadvantages of 4-day school weeks to determine if the policy would be useful. It is a difficult choice to make because there will always be unknown variables, but there are numerous benefits that make it an experiment worth pursuing.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.