We have updated this post, originally published on June 5, 2018, to include new figures, research and other information.
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 one of their schools to adopt a four-day school 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.
Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico and South Dakota are among the states leading the trend, which is especially popular in rural areas in the Midwest. In Colorado alone, 111 out of the state’s 178 school districts are using a compressed schedule, The Colorado Sun reports. Meanwhile, four-day scheduling started spreading 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.
Just days ago, school board members in Norfolk, Arkansas voted unanimously to move to a four-day week for their district beginning next school year — the second district in the state to do so. News reports show that education officials in Alaska, Missouri, Montana, Oregon and Wyoming are currently debating the option.
Critics point out 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, this “troubling development” 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.
Scholars have conducted little peer-reviewed research on the topic in recent years. To help journalists cover this issue, we’ve pulled together some of the newest academic journal articles and government reports. Below, we also provide links to other resources, including a 50-state comparison of local laws outlining student instructional time requirements.
“Three Midwest Rural School Districts’ First Year Transition to the Four Day School Week”
Turner, Jon; Finch, Kim; Uribe-Zarain, Ximena. The Rural Educator, 2019. DOI: 10.35608/ruraled.v40i1.529.
Abstract: “The four-day school week is a concept that has been utilized in rural schools for decades to respond to budgetary shortfalls. There has been little peer-reviewed research on the four-day school week that has focused on the perception of parents who live in school districts that have recently switched to the four-day model. This study collects data from 584 parents in three rural Missouri school districts that have transitioned to the four-day school week within the last year. Quantitative statistical analysis identifies significant differences in the perceptions of parents classified by the age of children, special education identification, and free and reduced lunch status. Strong parental support for the four-day school week was identified in all demographic areas investigated; however, families with only elementary aged children and families with students receiving special education services were less supportive than other groups.”
“Juvenile Crime and the Four-Day School Week”
Fischer, Stefanie; Argyle, Daniel. Economics of Education Review, 2018. DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2018.03.010.
Abstract: “We leverage the adoption of a four-day school week across schools within the jurisdiction of rural law enforcement agencies in Colorado to examine the causal link between school attendance and youth crime. Those affected by the policy attend school for the same number of hours each week as students on a typical five-day week; however, treated students do not attend school on Friday. This policy allows us to learn about two aspects of the school-crime relationship that have previously been unstudied: one, the effects of a frequent and permanent schedule change on short-term crime, and two, the impact that school attendance has on youth crime in rural areas. Our difference-in-difference estimates show that following policy adoption, agencies containing students on a four-day week experience about a 20 percent increase in juvenile criminal offenses, where the strongest effect is observed for property crime.”
“Staff Perspectives of the Four-Day School Week: A New Analysis of Compressed School Schedules”
Turner, Jon Scott; Finch, Finch; Ximena, Uribe-Zarian. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 2018. DOI: 10.11114/jets.v6i1.2769.
Abstract: “The four-day school week is a concept that has been utilized in rural schools for decades to respond to budgetary shortfalls. There has been little peer-reviewed research on the four-day school week that has focused on the perception of staff that work in school districts that have recently switched to the four-day model. This study collects data from 136 faculty and staff members in three rural Missouri school districts that have transitioned to the four-day school week within the last year. Quantitative statistical analysis identifies strong support of the four-day school week model from both certified educational staff and classified support staff perspectives. All staff responded that the calendar change had improved staff morale, and certified staff responded that the four-day week had a positive impact on what is taught in classrooms and had increased academic quality. Qualitative analysis identifies staff suggestions for schools implementing the four-day school week including the importance of community outreach prior to implementation. No significant differences were identified between certified and classified staff perspectives. Strong staff support for the four-day school week was identified in all demographic areas investigated. Findings support conclusions made in research in business and government sectors that identify strong employee support of a compressed workweek across all work categories.”
“The Economics of a Four-Day School Week: Community and Business Leaders’ Perspectives”
Turner, Jon Scott; Finch, Finch; Ximena, Uribe-Zarian. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 2018. DOI: 10.11114/aef.v5i2.2947.
Abstract: “The four-day school week is a concept that has been utilized in rural schools in the United States for decades and the number of schools moving to the four-day school week is growing. In many rural communities, the school district is the largest regional employer which provides a region with permanent, high paying jobs that support the local economy. This study collects data from 71 community and business leaders in three rural school districts that have transitioned to the four-day school week within the last year. Quantitative statistical analysis is used to investigate the perceptions of community and business leaders related to the economic impact upon their businesses and the community and the impact the four-day school week has had upon perception of quality of the school district. Significant differences were identified between community/business leaders that currently have no children in school as compared to community/business leaders with children currently enrolled in four-day school week schools. Overall, community/business leaders were evenly divided concerning the economic impact on their businesses and the community. Community/business leaders’ perceptions of the impact the four-day school week was also evenly divided concerning the impact on the quality of the school district. Slightly more negative opinions were identified related to the economic impact on the profitability of their personal businesses which may impact considerations by school leaders. Overall, community/business leaders were evenly divided when asked if they would prefer their school district return to the traditional five-day week school calendar.”
“Impact of a 4-Day School Week on Student Academic Performance, Food Insecurity, and Youth Crime”
Report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Office of Partner Engagement, 2017.
Summary: “A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) utilizes a variety of data sources and analytic methods to evaluate the consequences of proposed or implemented policy on health. A rapid (HIA) was chosen to research the impact of the four-day school week on youth. The shift to a four-day school week was a strategy employed by many school districts in Oklahoma to address an $878 million budget shortfall, subsequent budget cuts, and teacher shortages. The HIA aimed to assess the impact of the four-day school week on student academic performance, food insecurity, and juvenile crime … An extensive review of literature and stakeholder engagement on these topic areas was mostly inconclusive or did not reveal any clear-cut evidence to identify effects of the four-day school week on student outcomes — academic performance, food insecurity or juvenile crime. Moreover, there are many published articles about the pros and cons of the four-day school week, but a lack of comprehensive research is available on the practice.”
“Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week”
Anderson, D. Mark; Walker, Mary Beth. Education Finance and Policy, 2015. DOI: 10.1162/EDFP_a_00165.
Abstract: “School districts use a variety of policies to close budget gaps and stave off teacher layoffs and furloughs. More schools are implementing four-day school weeks to reduce overhead and transportation costs. The four-day week requires substantial schedule changes as schools must increase the length of their school day to meet minimum instructional hour requirements. Although some schools have indicated this policy eases financial pressures, it is unknown whether there is an impact on student outcomes. We use school-level data from Colorado to investigate the relationship between the four-day week and academic performance among elementary school students. Our results generally indicate a positive relationship between the four-day week and performance in reading and mathematics. These findings suggest there is little evidence that moving to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement. This research has policy relevance to the current U.S. education system, where many school districts must cut costs.”
- Opinions about the four-day school week vary among school board members, district-level administrators, school principals and teachers. These organizations can help provide insights: the Schools Superintendents Association, National School Boards Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals.
- Jennifer Davis, a former U.S. Department of Education deputy assistant secretary who is president of the National Center on Time and Learning, also has been critical of the trend.
- A 2018 report from the Education Commission of the States offers a 50-state comparison of students’ instructional time requirements. For example, students in Colorado are required to be in school for a minimum of 160 days a year while in Vermont, the minimum is 175 days and in Alabama, it’s 180.