New 4-Day School Week Trends Potentially Hurt Academic Results

A growing trend in which some school districts nationwide are switching to four-day weeks to slash spending and retain teachers has turned out to be a mixed blessing at best.

According to research, it is proving taxing for parents and potentially hurting learning and academic achievements.

The ordeals families encounter when forced to deal with a four-day school week are revealed in an Associated Press (AP) report quoted by The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), showing how the Pruente household in Independence, Missouri, is trying to cope with the situation.

‘Back’ under COVID Lockdowns

“I feel like I’m back in the COVID shutdown,” says Brandi Pruente, a mother of three, about the reality of her kids’ four-day school schedule, which was just instituted by the local school district.

The report notes that the family’s kids – Callahan, 13, Keegan, 10, and Hudson, 7 – think the switch is “terrific” because they get a “three-day break of school.”

Hunting for Off-Day Activities

Yet, the new situation is “frustrating” to their parents, with their mother, a French teacher in a neighboring school district in Kansas City, which is on a regular, five-day schedule.

Brandi Pruente has seen herself having to “hunt for activities” for her children on their new extra day off, including “keeping them from electronics.”

Some 1,000 Districts Already Doing It

It is worth mentioning that although the adoption of four-day weeks in school districts is more common in rural areas of the western United States, Independence stands out as an exception. With a population of 120,000, it is renowned as the hometown of President Harry Truman, whose district accommodates 14,000 students.

According to Paul Thompson, an economics professor at Oregon State University, almost 900 out of the over 13,000 school districts in the United States now run on four-day schedules.

The increase is notable from the 662 districts, which did that in 2019, and the 100, which did so in 1999.

An ABC News report claimed the number of districts on the four-day week is presently twice higher, at 1,600.

Missouri has been particularly affected by the trend as the share of its districts with three-day weekends has gone from 12% to 30% throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Savings and Recruitment

Those school districts choosing four-day weeks argue the shift has cut their costs while giving them an edge in recruiting teachers.

Yet, any benefits to the school districts themselves might be severely outweighed by the downsides – which seem to be reserved exclusively for the children and their parents.

AP points out that while parents “approve overall” of four-day school weeks, it is the opposite among those with young children. These parents are particularly burdened by both the added complication and cost of making arrangements for their kids’ extra day off.

Babysitting Replacing Education

In the case of the Pruentes, the eldest child is usually put in charge since the mother decided that she didn’t want to take the childcare offer provided by the district at $30 per child per ‘off’ day.

“I want my kids in an educational environment, and I don’t want to pay for somebody to babysit them,” Brandi Pruente declared.

The report points out that it’s not even every school district with a four-day week that offers childcare options – thus forcing many parents to change their work schedule to use a relative to help on that extra day without school.

Benefiting Certain Communities

Yet, AP makes the case that a shorter school week is “better for families” in communities with few students or rural communities where many students just spend time working on family farms.

That includes the Turner district in Montana, which has only about 50 students. It faced a situation in which only a handful of students were left in class on Fridays when their basketball team had to travel 3-4 hours for games.

Teachers Get Better ‘Quality of Life’

It is noted that only some large school districts have taken up three-day weekends – including the 27J district north of Denver, Colorado.

The district of 20,000 students did so even before the coronavirus pandemic in 2018 to attract teachers with a shorter work week. It had failed to raise taxes for higher teacher pay, leaving it at a disadvantage compared with neighboring districts.

“Quality of life is what they’re reporting,” declared Superintendent Will Pierce, showing the district’s polls in which 85% of teachers and nearly 80% of parents said they favored the four-day school week.

He added that only about 300 students used the district’s off-day program.

Test Scores Worsening

Yet, a research report released in 2023 established that students’ test scores in the 27J district declined somewhat – and so did home values compared to surrounding districts.

“Voters need to think about trade-offs,” commented Frank James Perrone, an Indiana University professor of educational leadership and one of the scholars behind the study.

Teacher job applications went up in Independence, Missouri, while teacher retirement declined after introducing the four-day week.

Parents Will ‘Figure It Out’

While that can be good, “it can’t be at the expense of the community or families of the district,” Brandi Pruente insisted.

Her school district’s superintendent, Dale Herl, said he learned from other districts with truncated schedules that parents would “figure out” their child care if they didn’t want their kids to attend Monday sessions for struggling students, which will begin in October.

“You have to go back and look, you know, what do parents do during the summertime? What do they do over, you know, spring break or Christmas break?” he stated.

“Hundreds of school districts have shifted to a four-day school week so that teachers have enough time to recharge and avoid burnout,” Democrat US Rep. Mark Takano of California commented on X recently.

Tiny Savings, Doubtful Recruitment

That reasoning aside, critics are questioning both the economic side and the recruitment strategy logic behind the four-day school week.

Thus, the Economic Commission of the States discovered in an analysis that slashing the school week cuts districts’ costs by only between 0.4% and 2.5% of their annual budgets.

Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven points out that districts with reduced work weeks have a recruiting edge over others until their neighbors shift.

“If everybody becomes a four-day school week, that is no longer a recruitment strategy,” she cautioned.

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Bad Effect Shows Eventually

The report notes arguments that shorter weeks don’t hurt academic and learning achievements if the remaining days in school are made longer to compensate for the day off.

Yet, a Rand Corporation report recently concluded worse test scores in four-day districts became more tangible over several years.

Karyn Lewis of NWEA, a research organization, also came to similar conclusions regarding the post-pandemic environment.

“Now is not the time to do anything that threatens the amount of instruction kids are receiving,” she declared.

Adding to Education Problems

Social media users’ reaction to the four-day school week trend has boiled down to solidarity with parents and outrage over presumably declining educational standards and achievements.

“What are blue voters who work 5 days going to do???? Oh…. More socialist nonsense from Joe,” declared the user Stedar.

“Children are less educated than ever before, solution, educate them fewer days. Genius,” commented an X user called Independentthinker.

“Just give everyone A’s. That’s where this crap is leading. No wonder we’re not even close to the top in education,” wrote a user named Me.

Considering the lingering consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the hardship it creates for parents and families – as well as the dubious benefits in savings and teacher recruitment, the four-day school week might be doing more harm than good.


This article was produced by TPR Teaching.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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