The benefits of a four-day work week for adults are well-documented, and the healthy trend is catching on in workplaces worldwide. But if it’s good for grown-ups, shouldn’t it be good for kids and teens, too? New research says maybe not so much.
During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools adopted various creative measures to limit the spread of the virus, many going to strictly virtual learning. Others adopted a truncated school week. Now that much of the pandemic furor has subsided, many of those districts have held on to the four-day school week to address budgetary and staffing shortages. According to a new study published in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, the results have been mixed for everyone involved.
To obtain the results, a researcher analyzed nine years of attendance and behavior data, 12 years of demographic data, and 11 years of testing data from public high schools in 417 school districts in Oklahoma. Although there were no discernable changes in attendance or academic performance associated with the four-day school week, Morton did find both positive and negative impacts of the schedule in other areas. Here’s what she found.
Bullying Decreases With a 4-Day School Week
Morton discovered that bullying in schools dropped a dramatic 39% after school districts adopted a four-day week. Though Morton could not quantify incidences of out-of-school cyberbullying, the findings for in-school bullying are significant. Research has shown that about 20% of teens have been the victim of in-school bullying and that bullying can lead to increased feelings of isolation and exacerbate mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Fewer Incidences of Fighting in School
With the adoption of a shortened school week, Morton noticed a downward trend of physical altercations between students on school property. Fighting decreased by 31% at school. But as with bullying, there was no way to compare data for fighting between students that occurred away from school.
“Part of that is probably mechanical: They’re spending less time in school,” Morton explained to EdWeek. “So it depends on when we think bullying happens; if it happens at lunchtime and they actually now only have four days of lunch, instead of five days of lunch, that’s a reduction in time that the bullying or fights might happen. But both the number of incidents and the percentage of students who are experiencing bullying is still decreasing, so even if [time] is part of what’s explaining it, that’s not explaining all of it.”
Teens Spend More Time Alone
Though some students reported working a job and attending school athletic events, there was evidence that many teens spent the fifth day alone. Seventy-nine percent of students reported spending the extra day off school at home with 15% of those reporting that they were home alone, or otherwise unsupervised.
Previous research, Morton notes, has shown that a glut of unsupervised time can have negative consequences for high schoolers, including decreased academic performance, increased antisocial behavior, and increased rates of drug use and crime during out-of-school hours. These negative behaviors can then bleed into in-school hours.
Though the four-day workweek has proven to be an unmitigated boon for adult workers — with results from work week pilots showing adults had better work-life balance, were more productive, and less stressed — especially for those with children — it appears the same can’t be said across the board for teens. There are benefits, but the increase in alone time and its potential effects on risky behavior and no discernible increase in academic performance should be taken into account before four-day school week policies become widespread.