Public schools have long been a backbone to our nation. A cornerstone for local communities, public schools have helped prepare a skilled workforce essential for manufacturing; they’ve also produced doctors, lawyers, academics, and others essential to a healthy and thriving society. But those schools did not operate on a four-day week.
The first public school of record was the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. Still in existence today, it is currently ranked the #1 high school in Massachusetts and #48 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.
While we have an educational system that has led the world in many arenas, our public schools often face stiff challenges: Their budgets are stretched too thin while costs continue to rise. Expectations and accountability continue to remain front and center in an ever-changing political climate. There aren’t enough high-qualified teachers, particularly in shortage areas. As a result, some school districts have looked at creative ways to serve students and yet remain fiscally solvent. Enter the four-day school week.
Why Have Districts Opted for a Four-Day Week?
School administrators report they have adopted a shortened week for two main reasons: (1) to save money and (2) to help with teacher recruitment. Funding levels have not kept pace with district expenses, and boards of education are looking for ways to cut costs. Plus, financially-strapped schools often have difficulty attracting and hanging on to teachers–particularly in those high-demand areas.
Which Schools Use a Shortened Week the Most?
Approximately 560 school districts in 25 states have moved to a four-day school week. Most of the schools are small and are located in rural areas. Within the past few years some larger urban districts have begun experimenting with a shorter school week, but those numbers are small compared to rural counterparts.
In five states (Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico) at least 20% of schools within each of those five states have adopted a shortened school week model.
However, if we look at the actual number of school districts, the state leaders for four-day weeks are Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. Colorado has the largest proportion at 98. Missouri currently has 61 school districts on a four-day week schedule, with 9 more slated to come on board in 2020-21.
How Does a Four-Day Week School Work?
The most common four-day week model is to adhere to a Monday through Thursday schedule, although some districts opt for scheduling classes Tuesday through Friday with Mondays off. Most states require a minimum number of days and/or instructional contact hours in each school year. Schools that have adopted a four-day week simply design their schedules to fit the required contact hours into a shorter time span. This can make for a very long school day, particularly for students who have a long bus ride to and from home. In some instances, students have a 90-minute bus ride each morning and again each evening.
How Big are the Savings to School Districts?
The Education Commission of the States (ECS) cited a report that concludes the actual savings for districts that moved to a four-day week were between 0.4% and 2.5%. Savings on bus transportation, building utilities, and custodial services could be significant enough for superintendents to seriously consider this model, particularly where funding has been slashed for P-12 schools. However, districts experience no savings for staff salaries and benefits, because staff must still work the same number of hours per school year.
What’s the Impact on Teacher Recruitment & Retention?
School staff tend to like the convenience of a shortened work week despite a longer work day, according to one research study. This could potentially serve as a drawing card to attract applicants particularly in high-demand areas. There are large teachers supply and demand gaps in math, science, special education, and English Language Learners. However, researchers have conducted very little formal research on four-day school weeks. That means the long-term impact on teacher supply and demand remains to be seen.
But What About Impact of Four-Day Week Schools on Students?
Health & Safety:
While some stay-at-home parents/guardians say they like having one day per week to schedule doctor appointments and run errands, those who work outside the home often feel frustrated by having to find childcare for one full day per week. Plus, the cost of paying for such care is just unrealistic for many parents in low income areas.
In many instances when proper adult care isn’t available students are left home alone unsupervised, putting their health and safety at risk.
Also, the vast majority of students in those 61 Missouri schools that have opted for the shortened week qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family’s low income. In many cases, the only nutritious meals those students eat are eaten at school.
When students are not in school and unsupervised, crime rates tend to rise, particularly vandalism. Researchers analyzed crime reports in Colorado and found a 20% increase, with most incidents related to property damage.
What’s the impact of a four-day week on student success? What about daily attendance? Discipline? Performance on high-stakes achievement tests? Graduation rates? College acceptance rates? The truth is we just don’t know–the experiment just hasn’t been around long enough to know yet what affect it will have on Missouri students’ success.
The Verdict on Four-Day Week Schools
By shutting their doors a full day each week, Missouri school districts may save some money on transportation and utility bills, but the verdict is still out as to whether the risks outweigh the benefits.
One Missouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians.
Top Graphic Credit: pxhere.com