Even kids who love going to school every day feel like they need the occasional break. From kindergartners to high school seniors, prolonged days of school with only two days to recover can make it difficult to learn. It is a schedule which forces teachers to cram as much data as they can into the shortest time possible.
Kids are finding that the need to stay engaged with their lessons is taking them away from the fun activities of school too. With recess time down at many schools, shortened lunch breaks, and fewer creative “specials” available in the United States, the experience that parents remember while growing up is very different than today’s educational routines.
One idea that is gaining in popularity to correct this issue is the 4-day school week. Although moving from five days to four would require a longer school day, it would also mean that weekends were three days in length. That could mean more family time, more diversification in the classes offered, and additional opportunities for learning.
There are some big advantages and disadvantages of the 4-day school week to consider as communities in the U.S., and around the world, consider this new timing structure. Here are the critical ideas to consider.
List of the Advantages of the 4-Day School Week
1. There are fewer moments of wasted time.
A 2006 research study from Yarbrough and Gilman discovered that teachers during a 5-day school week are wasting precious time during their core classes. The structure of school makes it so that it is up to the students to learn instead of having the teachers provide instruction. In 2015, Coastal Conservatory reported that during the average 7-hour school day, over 2 hours of lost educational opportunities exist every day. Moving to the 4-day schedule shifts student movement patterns, reducing the number of lost transition minutes.
2. Students can adjust to the new schedule.
An understandable concern for parents, teachers, and students about the 4-day school week is the extended time required to be at school during the day. Two hours must be added to each day to make up for the added weekend day that is given. That means students are at school for 10-hour day instead of an 8-hour day. Five states in the U.S. have pushed for the 4-day week: New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, Colorado, and Oklahoma. Their research has found that young students adapt to the new schedule just as well as the older students.
3. It allows students to create an extracurricular schedule that works.
Children who attend schools that have implemented the 4-day schedule are found to be happier about their extra day off. They stay happier than 5-day schedule students throughout the entire academic year. Many of the kids even say they look forward to going to school because it feels productive to them. The issue of student exhaustion tends to be tied to the constant transitions that happen during a compressed schedule, which is reduced during the 4-day week. Then students have more energy to create an extracurricular schedule outside of school for athletics, scouting programs, spiritual activities, and family-oriented options because they have time and energy to do it.
4. The 4-day school week follows the working schedule of many parents.
Outside of the extra day off which students have, the 4-day week at school fits into the working schedule of most parents. The school districts which have implemented the 4-day week typically hold class from 7:30 am to 5 pm each day, or from 8 am to 5:30 pm. That makes it possible for parents to drop off their children on the way to work, then pick them up on the way home. That reduces child care costs throughout the week, especially if parents can shift their own schedule to a 4-day, 40-hour week with their employer.
5. School districts can plan after-school events with greater ease.
Under the standard 5-day schedule that schools use, most practices for athletics occur in the afternoon. Then you’ll have games in the evening and on the weekend. Depending on the location of the school and the size of the conference or division, schools are often forced to travel during school hours to meet their obligations. By adding an additional day off, more athletic events can be scheduled during non-school hours, which means fewer lessons are missed or passed on as a “self-learning opportunity.”
6. Teacher recruitment is easier with a 4-day school week.
The popularity of the 4-day school week became so popular in New Mexico that the state government had to set a moratorium on the practice to determine how beneficial it would be for their students. It is a schedule which is popular with teachers because they get more time with their families as well. Most teachers work outside of their usual 8-hour day anyway, so their schedule isn’t really that different – except for the added day where they can work from home if they wish. Schools with a 4-day week in New Mexico found recruiting to be 20% easier when compared to their 5-day counterparts.
7. It is cheaper to run a 4-day school week for some school districts.
Rural school districts often look at the 4-day school week as an option because they are trying to meet tight budgetary constraints. By shifting to this new schedule, districts are able to immediately cut 20% from their transportation budget. That expense is often the largest line-item for a district behind labor costs. If every school district in the United States were to shift to the 4-day schedule, taxpayers would save over $4 billion. At the local level, districts save between $700 to $1,200 per student each year.
8. Students perform better when compared to the 5-day week.
Many teachers have discovered that the added daily time for each subject they teach allows for the adoption of different teaching styles. Under the 5-day format, most teachers use a lecture-based teaching style that incorporates self-study from textbooks. Videos are watched, and other media is incorporated to create varied content. The average student retains about 10% of this information. Under the 4-day format, teachers are using small-group discussions and practical practice as teaching tools, which improves the retention rate to over 90%. When students remember the information better, they’re able to score higher grades throughout the year and on their standardized tests.
9. The 4-day schedule reduces discipline issues for schools.
According to reporting from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, having fewer days in classes results in some students receiving fewer referrals for disciplinary issues. In Georgia, the Chattooga County School District implemented a 4-day school week and saw discipline referrals decline by more than 70% in their first year on this schedule. That effort resulted in fewer disruptions during classroom time, which created engaged learning opportunities. With the added rest, students were more likely to stay on-task, feel rested, and be focused on the work which was required.
10. It improves the overall attendance rate for students.
In the United States, there were 84 school districts which had implemented a 4-day school week in 1995. Most were small, rural districts where students lived on farms and worked agricultural jobs. By shifting away from the traditional 5-day schedule, student attendance rose by more than 20% on the average day. It is a trend that these districts are still seeing today, more than 20 years after they implemented this schedule change.
11. Teachers take fewer sick days with a 4-day school week.
Teachers take fewer days off during the school year when they’re working the 4-day school week as well. The extra day off gives teachers more flexibility to engage in volunteer activities, hold down a second job if required, or rest after a difficult week. In Melstone, Montana, administrative attendance went up 20% in the first two years of their 4-day school week plan.
List of the Disadvantages of the 4-Day School Week
1. Shifting to the 4-day schedule could be the exception, not the norm.
Although numerous school districts are considering a shift to the 4-day school week, most have not made that change as of yet. If one local district decides to go with the 4-day week while everyone else goes with the traditional schedule, then it may create scheduling conflicts within the region. From athletics to extracurricular activities, many families find that they have very little down time after school because of the 10-hour day that is required. Trying to accommodate other schedules is virtually impossible if your school is the only one in the area on the 4-day week.
2. It doesn’t always save money for schools.
In 2003, the school district of Webster Country, KY decided to make the switch to a 4-day schedule. Over the next three years, the district was able to save just 2% on their overall costs – not the 20% that was expected. That gave them a total savings of about $200,000. The Morrow County school district in Oregon experienced a similar outcome, saving just 1.4% on costs, for a total of $45,000 saved. Unless transportation costs are high in the district, there may not be many opportunities to save money with this alternative schedule.
3. The 4-day week works best in small, rural areas only.
About 10% of the schools on a 4-day week right now are classified as being urban, suburban, or large. The natural isolation of the rural school districts in the United States is what allows the shift from the traditional 5-day schedule to be effective. In larger districts, there is already flexibility built into the schedule, allowing students and teachers to accommodate their personal needs while still working or learning. There are more activities offered in urban districts, which means more student events are managed, and that limits the gains which are possible. Several urban Colorado districts have stopped using the 4-day schedule, opting to return to the traditional format instead, because of the problems they encountered with it.
4. For many students, the fifth day isn’t a day off.
If you’re involved with athletics at school, you will still be going to practices on Monday or Friday, depending on what the extra day off happens to be. Districts keep administrative staff available during the extra day, allowing for the grounds to be open during weekdays. Teacher conferences are held on the day off, as are training days, and the schools must still be cleaned. Even though the idea of a 3-day weekend seems nice, for many employees, it isn’t a reality.
5. The 4-day school week creates a negative impact for families at or below the poverty line.
Although parents might have reduced daycare needs for their children with a 4-day school week because only one day of supervision is required instead of five, the hours remain the same. Watching a student for 10 hours over 5 days, or one 10-hour day, results in the same care cost. Only half of parents are able to shift their schedule to the 4-day, 40-hour week with their employer, which means single-parent homes may not see a benefit at all. Until the kids get older and can legally care for themselves, more strain can be placed on families with this schedule instead of less.
6. It can be difficult for students to find after-school employment.
In high school, students begin to explore their future career options. They look for employment in their community as a way to earn money and learn vocational skills. The legal requirements for working when you’re under 18 make it difficult for students to find a job that is practical. They must stop working by a certain time on school nights, have caps on the hours they work, and other local restrictions which might apply. Even with a full day free for work, the number of hours allowed during the school year on that day are also capped.
7. Shifting to the 4-day school week might eliminate holiday breaks.
To manage the demands of the 4-day school week, many districts have found themselves forced to schedule emergency makeup dates during planned holiday stoppages. This issue is particularly problematic in regions that see a lot of snow each year. If you lose 4 school days because of weather, that means you must replace 40 hours of learning time instead of just 32 hours. For some families, this problem can only be solved by taking their earned vacation time to counter the issue of the weather-related school stoppages.
8. It creates a long school day for some students.
Even with fewer transitions, some students struggle to make it through a 6-hour learning day at school. Extending that time commitment to 10 hours for them is a recipe for disaster. Between homework, school, and riding the bus, they might have 12 hours away from home because of their school schedule. On younger children especially, that schedule can lead to fatigue. When kids get tired, that’s when their choices turn toward negative behaviors.
These big advantages and disadvantages of the 4-day school week offer some school districts an opportunity to make budget cuts without disrupting the classroom. Students and teachers receive more flexibility with their schedule, which may create more time to rest. It might also mean less time at home, more disciplinary issues, and less family contact. Because of the logistics required for this format, the districts which benefit the most from it will likely always be the small, rural schools.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.