School Is Out

The 4-Day School Week Is Catching On — But Is It Good For Kids?

A school district in Missouri may join the ranks of those adopting four-day school weeks.

White Classroom with Stainless Steel Chair with no Student
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A school district in Missouri could become the next to adopt a four-day educational week for students, joining a growing number of school districts across the country in shifting to a truncated school week. St. Joseph School District in Kansas City recently announced that administrators and board members are considering a truncated week after board members in another Missouri district voted 6-1 to shorten their school week from five to four days.

Officials from St. Joseph, which serves around 10,000 students, say the move might be necessary to address a significant shortage of qualified teachers. A shortened week would also cut down on overhead like utilities and maintenance costs.

Four-day school weeks are gaining momentum, particularly in rural areas where it’s more difficult to fill staff vacancies. According to research, in 2021, 1,600 schools in 24 states had adopted a shortened week — up from 257 back in 1999 — and the trend is more common in the South and Western parts of the country.

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 41 Texas school districts have switched over to a four-day week. Districts throughout Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah comprise the majority of four-day weeks, while California and a sprinkling of states throughout the South, Midwest, and Pacific Northwest make up the remainder.

The benefits of a four day work week for adults in the workforce are well-documented, and the trend is catching on around the world. But as more and more school districts adopt the same approach for the educational week, it’s time to question whether or not the four-day week is as good for kids as it is for adults.

Are Four Day School Weeks Better For Schools?

That’s a tough question to answer. School districts have a number of moving parts, and the ramifications differ for each. Teachers, like any workers, may benefit from an extra day off — improved morale and work-life balance are generally seen in four-day workweek scenarios.

School districts as a whole typically save between one and three percent of their overall budgets by closing the doors one extra day a week. New teachers might be encouraged to work in more non-traditional environments like rural districts or tribal schools if a four-day week is part of the package.

Four Day School Weeks Impact Families

Recent research shows that kids and their families may not benefit as much as the staff. A shortened school week has one very obvious disadvantage for families: the need to find child care. Working parents are already struggling to pay for daycare, and adding in a full extra day of childcare is often difficult.

Research shows that in two-parent households, the mother is often the parent to either leave the workforce entirely or cut their hours significantly to provide care for children — a problem exacerbated when schools close an extra day per week.

Many families may also be forced to leave children at home unsupervised. A recent study on schools with four-day weeks found that 15% of teens who attended such districts were left home alone during their parents’ work day. Prior studies have shown that increased time alone contributes to several negative outcomes for teens, including lower academic performance and an increase in risky behaviors like drug use and crime.

Four Day School Weeks Impact Students

It stands to reason that a decrease in the number of educational hours would result in a decrease in education, and while that’s not true across the board — some districts in Colorado have seen an increase in test scores — experts have found that students with four day weeks typically spend around 85 fewer hours on instruction than students with traditional schedules. As schools try to rebound from COVID-19-era lockdown learning loss, less might not be better.

There are a few positive impacts, though. Research shows less bullying and fewer incidences of fighting during a four-day week.

It should be noted, though, that most school districts are moving to a four-day week for budgetary reasons — teachers shortages caused by low salaries, few perks, and underfunding — not to improve the mental health, emotional well-being, or educational standards of students and their families. The shift to four day school weeks give rise to other questions: how schools are funded, whether they are funded enough, where that funding comes from, and the role the federal government plays in ensuring every school district has the resources to provide quality education for students regardless of where they live. All important questions to ask — and answer.