A Four-Day School Week?

Preliminary research suggests district savings are small, and critics contend that low-income kids may suffer more

June 28, 2018
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To save money and help with teacher recruitment, numerous school districts in the United States have decided to give students and employees Fridays off. An estimated 560 districts in 25 states have allowed at least some of their schools to adopt a four-day week, with most moving to a Monday-to-Thursday schedule, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Generally, schools make up for the lost day by adding extra time to the remaining four days.

Four states — Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon — are leading the trend, which is especially popular in rural areas. More than 60 school systems in Montana alone were using a compressed schedule in 2016-17, state records show. Meanwhile, four-day scheduling has spread so quickly across New Mexico that lawmakers have placed a moratorium on the practice until state leaders can study its impact on student performance and working-class families.

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"If local leaders are lucky, graduates of these schools won’t be any less well educated than their siblings who went to school all week. But, in an environment where young rural adults already suffer from isolation and low economic opportunity, the shorter school week could exacerbate their problems." – Paul T. Hill

Critics point out that the change can be tough on lower-income parents, who may have trouble paying for childcare on the day their kids no longer have class. Also, low-income students rely on public schools for almost half their meals — breakfasts and lunches during the week. Paul T. Hill, a research professor at the University of Washington Bothell who founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education, has argued that while some adults like the new schedule, it could end up hurting rural students.

“The idea has proved contagious because adults like it: Teachers have more free time, and stay-at-home parents like the convenience of taking kids to doctors and doing errands on Friday,” Hill co-wrote in a piece published on the Brown Center Chalkboard blog in 2017. “If local leaders are lucky, graduates of these schools won’t be any less well educated than their siblings who went to school all week. But, in an environment where young rural adults already suffer from isolation and low economic opportunity, the shorter school week could exacerbate their problems.”

It appears that while a truncated schedule does cut costs, the savings is small. A 2011 report from the Education Commission of the States examined six school districts and found that switching to a four-day schedule helped them shave their budgets by 0.4 percent to 2.5 percent. “In the Duval [County, Florida] school district, moving to a four-day week produced only a 0.7 percent savings, yet that resulted in a budget reduction of $7 million. That $7 million could be used to retain up to 70 teaching positions,” the report states.

See below for recent journal articles and government reports, as well as links to other resources, including a 50-state comparison of local laws outlining student instructional time requirements.

Excerpted from an article by Journalist's Resource, a project at the Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Read the original piece.

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Education Policy K-12