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4-day school weeks growing in popularity

Of the nation's 13,000 school districts, nearly 900 operate on a shortened four-day schedule — up from 650 just four years ago.
4-day school weeks growing in popularity
Posted at 12:33 PM, Oct 18, 2023

The idea of four-day work weeks has picked up steam lately. Striking auto workers included it in their contract demands. Portugal, Spain and Germany are running test projects. And a Bankrate poll of American workers finds 81% support the idea.

But how about a four-day school week for kids? An increasing number of districts across the country are trying it out.

If it's a Monday, the Pruente kids are probably hanging around home. They're not skipping class, though. And they're not homeschoolers. In fact, all of the students enrolled at their school in suburban Kansas City are off.

Like hundreds of school districts around the country, their district in Independence, Missouri, is on a four-day week.

SEE MORE: Should all schools adopt a 4-day week?

"I think that it is great to focus on teacher recruitment and retention, but it can't be at the expense of the community or families of the district," says their mom, Brandi Pruente.

For her, that extra day off raises child care complications and concerns that the shortened school week could affect her children's learning.

"I think there's an argument that it's not the school's job to babysit. True," she says. "But it is the school's job to provide a quality education. And I don't think that increasing our time four days a week so that we can have one day off is going to improve anybody's scores on testing."

In her children's district, the four-day week was billed as a way to keep teachers from leaving.

"If we're thinking about retention because teachers are stressed out, now they only have to deal with it for four days instead of five. So maybe they'll stay in the classroom longer," says Christopher Doss, a policy researcher with the Rand Corporation.

More and more districts are following that path. Oregon State University researchers say of the nation's 13,000 districts, nearly 900 operate on a shortened schedule. That's up from 650 in just four years ago, and it's particularly popular in rural communities.

Some districts do it to save money, though one analysis found the savings only average 0.5% to 2.5% of annual budgets.

SEE MORE: Giving grades an F? Some schools ditch traditional grades

But do four-day school weeks make it harder for kids to learn?

A Brookings Institution analysis says the data right now is mixed, with the researchers concluding: "The effects on achievement may depend on whether instructional time stays mostly intact."

In Independence, the district lengthened the four days the kids are in school so children get the same amount of class time per week. They also offer childcare at $30 a day.

Doss says the argument that short weeks help reduce teacher stress isn't clear and that we may be missing more significant reasons some school districts are struggling.

In Canton, Ohio, a local high school has gone to a four-day week, Monday through Thursday. But Friday is available for two-hour tutoring sessions.

"We're trying to be a little more creative as we looked around and saw what our students needed and saw what the world was doing," says Steven Nichols, the principal at Canton Harbor High School.

The extra time on Fridays is also designed to give the teachers time to work as a team for the benefit of individual students. That's something educator Debi Kilpatrick says has real value. 

"This offers us that opportunity that I think benefits our students because we're all going to be on the same page," she said.

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