If you ask the average kid what they think about school, you’ll get a very honest answer: “It’s boring.” From K-12, it can be difficult for students to stay engaged in the classroom during a 5-day school week. The schedule forces teachers to spend small blocks of time on specific topics without really being able to dig into in-depth issues.
At the same time, the constant back-and-forth for students limits the amount of fun they can have. Let’s face it – our best school memories aren’t from tests or pop quizzes. They’re from moments we remember having fun, whether that was in the classroom, the playground, or the athletics field.
One way to address these issues is to shift the traditional school schedule into a 4-day week. Not only would this give everyone a 3-day weekend to enjoy, it would also limit the pressure on students and teachers to have a diversified learning experience in a compressed time period.
There are several major pros and cons of a 4-day school week which must be considered by school districts looking to make this kind of change. These are the key points that must be addressed first.
List of the Major Pros of a 4-Day School Week
1. Shorter school weeks can improve overall student attendance.
In 1995, 84 school districts were studied that had already implemented a 4-day school week. They were located in 7 western states in the U.S. and all but 13 of them identified themselves as being a rural school district. Just 11 of the districts had enrollments of more than 1,000 students. Those that had implemented the alternative scheduling found that student attendance could rise by more than 20. At the same time, teacher attendance rates also rose, which is a trend still seen in these districts, 20+ years later.
2. Alternative scheduling can reduce discipline issues for students.
According to ASCD, many disciplinary issues that students face come from scheduled transitions. This occurs because a large number of students are moving around the school campus. This issue occurs at all grade levels. In some situations, a single teacher may be responsible for over 100 students. By switching to a 4-day school week, the number of transitions can be reduced because more time can be spent on each subject. In return, the number of disciplinary measures can also be reduced. Some districts have seen their disciplinary issues decline by more than 70% in the first two years of implementing a 4-day schedule.
3. Students also perform better within the 4-day schedule.
When teachers operate under time constraints, in high-pressure situations, then they typically default to a lecture-based teaching style. Students that sit in lecture classrooms retain 10% or less of the information that is presented to them. A switch to a 4-day schedule gives teachers more time to use teaching styles that are more effective. Small group learning with discussion, for example, increases the information retention rate for students up to 80%. If practicums can be included with small group discussions, the retention rate can top 90% for some students. Those changes happen because students who are active participants in their learning have more fun in school.
4. The 4-day school week can reduce costs for some school districts.
One of the primary reasons why school districts, especially rural districts, save money when they shift to a 4-day schedule is because there are fewer transportation costs. The 4-day schedule eliminates one full driving day for the transportation department. That means one of the biggest expenses for the district is immediately cut by 20%. In the United States, $17.5 billion each year is spent on school bus transportation. That means the average cost, per student, is about $700. Cutting that by 20% means a savings of $4 billion, if implemented nationwide.
5. It is easier to recruit teachers and administrative staff with the 4-day work week.
The ability to offer a 3-day weekend, every weekend, is a powerful motivator for school districts that are recruiting for quality employees. The school districts in New Mexico are one of the best examples of this benefit. About 20% of the state’s school districts incorporate a 4-day schedule of some kind. The districts which offer the 4-day work week receive more applications and more qualified applicants than the other school districts. That means the students in those districts have better opportunities to learn.
6. Alternative scheduling makes it easier to plan after-school events and activities.
In the standard 5-day school week, sports practices occur after school. Games occur in the evening, often on the weekend. Sometimes, schools are forced to travel during the school week to play some games or attend certain events. By shifting to a 4-day schedule, it becomes easier to transport students to all after-school events and activities because there is an extra day available to plan activities without running into mandatory school times.
7. It follows a schedule pattern that is similar to what a parent’s schedule happens to be.
The average time for school that is scheduled in a 4-day week is either 7:30am-5pm or 8am-5:30pm. This schedule works much better for parents, who often have that working schedule themselves. Parents can drop-off their kids in the morning, then pick them up in the afternoon, without worrying about work. They can supervise their children at the bus stop in rural districts as well. That also means some families, with children who are old enough, can eliminate daycare expenses completely with this type of scheduling option.
8. It could improve student morale over the course of a school year.
Many companies have found that when workers are able to work a schedule which suits their needs, letting them work how they like, then their workers are more productive. Students follow the same type of pattern. Kids that go to schools with the 4-day week are often happier, stay happy throughout the school year, and look forward to going to school each day. There tends to be less student exhaustion, which allows them to focus more on the learning process.
9. It eliminates time wasting that is found in the 5-day school week.
In 2006, a study by Yarbrough and Gilman found that teachers working in a 5-day school schedule reported that they have a lot of wasted time. When shifted to a 4-day school week, they reported that they were forced to focus on instruction much more than they had previously. The schedule change also shifted how teachers assigned homework, making it more efficient and focused. When teachers are more effective and efficient, student performance follows a similar pattern.
10. It is a schedule to which every student is able to adjust.
One of the biggest concerns of a 4-day school week is the length of seat time that younger students must complete. When implemented, however, 1st graders do just as well as teens with the expanded schedule and 3-day weekend. It provides an extra day for actual rest to occur when it may be needed without compromising the remainder of the family schedule.
List of the Major Cons of a 4-Day School Week
1. Students already feel like their school day is too long.
Most students, especially younger ones, find that the traditional school schedule is already too long. Students usually go to school about 6 hours each day in most districts. With the 4-day schedule, another 1.5 hours is added to their school day, every day. That can make it difficult for some students to pay attention to the information being provided. When busing and after-school activities are included in that timeframe as well, some older students may find themselves putting in 12-hour days at school every day. That reduces the effective time they would have for homework once they actually make it home.
2. It can create scheduling concerns for many families.
Rural families experience the greatest impacts from the 4-day school week. If a student lives an hour outside of town and have an 8am school bell to meet, then they’re on the bus at 7am. If school doesn’t get out until 4pm, then the student makes it home at 5pm. That’s two hours of lost time for farm chores, homework, or other responsibilities that rural families have more often than urban or suburban families.
3. The 4-day school week changes the holiday schedules as well.
For school districts following the 4-day school week, the Thanksgiving holiday usually receives a full week off instead of the final two days of the week. Christmas and Spring holiday weeks may be extended as well. Although families benefit from the 3-day weekend and those scheduling benefits, the non-traditional time off given to students can offset some of that savings. It almost forces some families into taking their vacation time from work during these holidays to accommodate the needs of their children.
4. Holiday schedules can be reduced, or eliminated, instead of increased for some districts.
Some school districts, particularly those that are in regions of the U.S. where snowfall creates a handful of cancellations each year, find that they are forced to reduce, if not eliminate, certain holidays or vacations. That may mean reducing Spring Break to 2 days instead of having the entire week off. It may eliminate common holidays, such as Memorial Day or Labor Day, from the schedule. Some districts take just one week off at Christmas instead of two weeks because of these conflicts. That also makes scheduling problematic for many families.
5. Not every parent benefits from the 4-day school week.
Employment opportunities with a 3-day weekend are increasing. In the United States, about 50% of all companies are either offering or thinking about offering a 4-day workweek for their workers. Shorter work weeks can improve employment productivity and provide families with more meaningful time together. That means half of parents will enjoy the alternative school schedule and half will hate it. Their child is at home while they are at work, which is problematic for parents of younger children.
6. It really isn’t going to be a true 4-day school week.
The only students who actually get to benefit from the 4-day school week are those that do not have any extra-curricular activities in which they are involved. Many school districts keep their administrative staff on school grounds all week long, though some allow half to take a Monday off, while the other half takes Friday off. Practices for sports are still held on the fifth day, as are teacher conferences, staff development opportunities, and required janitorial work. These actions often negate the benefits of the 3-day weekend because it really isn’t a true 3-day weekend.
7. The 4-day school week struggles in urban school districts and large districts.
Rural school districts and small school districts benefit the most from a 4-day schedule because of their natural isolation. Many of these schools are already operating on an alternative schedule because that is what works best for their community. When larger school districts attempt this kind of schedule, they find few, if any, benefits coming from their actions. That is because larger districts offer more activities, manage more student events, and operate essentially 7 days per week during the school year anyway. It has been so problematic that in Colorado, some urban districts which switched to a 4-day school week have gone back to the traditional scheduling instead.
8. Not every school district saves money with the 4-day school week.
Webster County, Kentucky moved their school district to a 4-day week in 2003. Over the next three years, the school district was able to save 2% on their overall costs each year, for a total of $200,000. In Lexington, Oregon, Morrow County was able to save about $250,000 their first year, but out of a budget of $14 million. Custer School District, in rural South Dakota, believed they could save $70,000 with a 4-day school week. They saved 1.4%, or $45,000, instead.
9. It puts the school district out of sync with other districts.
Most school districts are sticking to the 5-day schedule. Going to the 4-day schedule can create scheduling conflicts with other districts, particularly with sporting events, performances, and groups like 4-H. There will be days, even with the best efforts of everyone involved, where a student is stuck with an after-hours activity, deep into the night, after being in class for most of the day.
10. Job opportunities become limited for high school students.
After-school jobs are a common way for teens to make money. Working a couple of hours after school gains experience and disposable income. The longer school days of a 4-day week make it almost impossible for teens to find a job after school. They just don’t have time to get everything done. They do have a full day free for a job in some instances, but trying to find work on the weekends only, especially in a rural community, is never a guarantee – unless you don’t mind working on a farm, that is.
The major pros and cons of a 4-day school week suggest that it can save money for districts, which means taxpayers benefit. It can help teachers and students better manage the process of learning. It also means that students face more daily seat time, in exchange for a 3-day weekend which may not materialize with their after-school commitments. Every community has their own unique requirements that must be addressed by school scheduling. For some, a 4-day week makes perfect sense. For others, perhaps not.