Search form

Short and Sweet -Four-day school week gains popularity, and scorn

The four-day week for schools has gained ground in several regions with advocates claiming it has subtle benefits besides cutting costs, but skeptics say it needs more study.

The shortened week, which had been adopted by 560 districts in 25 states according to a National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) tally last summer, is usually undertaken to save money for schools and has most often been implemented in rural school districts facing economic downturns. NCSL reports the change saves from 0.4 percent to 2.5 percent of a district’s overall budget.

“Here it is just driven by our budgets,” says Amie Baca-Oehlert, the president of the Colorado Education Association, the biggest teacher’s union in a state where nearly half of the districts now have a four-day week. “I think it has been a mixed bag in terms of results – and to a large degree we just don’t know what the outcomes are. But it certainly should be something we do with more care.”

She is afraid that if the change isn’t planned well enough and is primarily being implemented most often in poorer, rural districts to save money.

The change has been undertaken in other districts for a range of reasons – from brain science that says students might perform better with an extra day to the opportunity it might present to include them in more out-of-class learning opportunities on the extra day out of class.

Georgia Heyward, who has been a prominent voice among critics of the four-day week, says that there is generally a consensus that much more information about the change is needed to see the real impact it is having on students and to find out if it is improving their outcomes. She says more state guidance also is needed and more planning and thought at the district level

She is concerned, particularly, about the impact of implementing the plans in big, urban districts.

For instance, she said, child care or transportation may be a significantly bigger issue in some districts where there are more single parent families or less “sense of community” where neighbors or community organizations are less likely to provide help.

Experts say that there are a number of other concerns – from worries about child care and unattended children or teens, to the longer time away from the classroom, which some teachers say causes students to lose track of the material teachers present before the three-day break. One study found there long term declines in test scores but others have shown mixed results in performance when four-day weeks were implemented.

Meanwhile, some states have cracked down on the practice, either establishing firm guidelines or halting it. In 2014 the Minnesota Department of Education required that seven districts with four-day week go back to a regular five-day schedule after they weren’t making adequate academic progress. Stricter standards have also been established in Oklahoma and New Mexico, according to the Heyward, and California legislators passed a bill that reverses the policy if districts don’t meet thresholds for student progress.

However, advocates say that even though some research shows cost savings are minimal, it is helpful for budgets. Districts also say they can more easily recruit teachers for less and save money on utilities, transportation and building maintenance. Some evidence also suggests attendance improves and families appreciate it because they can meet weekday commitments such as doctors’ appointments. Schools and community organizations can offer special programs or service work, field trips or special testing, advocates say..

“Possible uses of the fifth day for supplementary and remedial instruction, dual-credit college courses, experimentation with online instruction, internships, and educational field trips are all plausible and could be productive,” Heyward has written. “Similarly, teachers might use the fifth day for real learning and problem solving. All of these things are happening in one community or another, but they are far from universal.”

Written by Jim Paterson, Education World Contributing Writer

Jim Paterson is a writer, contributing to a variety of national publications, most recently specializing in education. During a break from writing for a period, he was the head of a school counseling department. (

Copyright© 2019 Education World