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As Four-Day School Weeks Are Becoming More Common, Here's What You Need To Know

Since the pandemic, educators have begun to think differently about what school can look like. The four-day week is one increasingly popular option.

This week, one more district joined approximately 1,600 other schools across the country in its adoption of a four-day week for students. Missouri’s McDonald County School District’s Board of Education cited a “a critical shortage of qualified educators” and its superintendent believes the move will enhance teacher recruitment and retention, and ultimately improve education for students in the district. But when it comes to research on the success of this increasingly popular model, data is both mixed and scarce. Here’s what you need to know.

Schools have been using the four-day week since the ‘90s, but national disasters have increased the number of districts trying it out.

The rise in the four-day school week actually began more than 15 years ago during the Great Recession of 2008, though about 100 districts were already participating in the 1990s. The number has increased precipitously since the pandemic necessitated a change in traditional education models in 2020. PBS News Hour reports that in 2019, 662 districts followed a four-day model. That number now hovers just under 900. These schools are mostly in rural areas in the western part of the country. So while there are no four-day week districts in Connecticut, for example, reports that this is the case for 50% of schools districts and charters in Idaho — approximately 34% of the K-12 population.

The four-day week is mainly tied to lack of funding and staff shortages.

For most schools, the decision is an economic one, NPR’s Sarah Gonzales reported last November: state and local cuts to education budgets make it difficult to attract and retain educators. “We just couldn’t compete,” Gregg Klinginsmith, superintendent of Warren County R-III School District in Missouri told Gonzales. Upwards of 50 teachers would quit annually for higher paying jobs in neighboring districts.

A truncated work week is an appealing, non-economic benefit for educators. Education Week reported earlier this year that 70% of teachers asked in a survey by the Rand Corporation, a policy think tank, were in favor of a four-day week. Furthermore, 66% said that the promise of a shorter work week would encourage them to accept a position.

Studies suggest parents and students are mostly happy with the four-day school week.

According to another survey from Rand, parents of elementary-age students attending schools with four-day weeks in Idaho, New Mexico, and Oklahoma overwhelmingly expressed extreme to moderate satisfaction with the sending their children to school one fewer day per week. To say that students enjoy one less day of school probably goes without saying, but was indeed observed in Rand’s survey as well. However, this survey was limited in both geographic scope and size (the survey pool was under 500). On the other hand, parents interviewed by NPR and expressed difficulty in managing to find childcare for students no longer in school during their work hours, causing stress and, in some cases, economic hardship.

Experts do not believe there is sufficient data to make a significant case for or against the four-day school week.

When it comes to robust research on the social, economic, and educational impact of a shortened school week, the data is generally not available. Research regarding academic achievements, positive and negative, have been mixed. And, indeed, most of the little research that has been done is focused primarily on academic scores and economic benefits. Little has been studied regarding the effects of a truncated week on families, communities, and children.

Education Week highlights in its reporting that studies on the subject have yielded varied results. Part of this has to do with the variability between districts. What might work for small rural schools — the majority of districts that have adopted the four-day model — might not be sufficient for urban districts. Another difficulty in gathering good data is the fact that implementation of the week varies. Some districts have implemented longer days to help make up for lost instruction times. Others have limited recess and non-academic subjects. It’s unclear how each district on a four-day schedule, especially those that opt for longer school days, handles issues of after-school extracurriculars, like sports or theater, though it appears some try to factor that consideration into their schedule.

Interest in a four-day schedule seems to be gaining support across the board.

Increasingly, schools — often strapped for resources and full of burned out teachers and students — are increasingly exploring the possibility of adopting a four-day week. The 55th Annual PDK Poll found that a majority of parents support the move to a shorter week, up nearly twice as many as said so two decades ago. And yet wide-spread adoption of this policy runs the risk of defeating the purpose, chiefly enticing teachers with something other districts can’t offer.

“Ultimately, if we only have four-day school weeks, teachers aren’t choosing where to work based on the school schedule,” Paul Thompson of Oregon State University told NPR. “They’re choosing over what monetary benefit schools are offering.”