What if school-aged kids had three days off every single week? Once upon a time, that may have sounded like a fantasy, but now it’s a plan that many schools have implemented and even more are considering.
The pandemic and the ongoing challenges it created for schools have led school officials to start looking for creative solutions to their problems. In many districts, the four-day school week has emerged as a winning option, but the shift has many parents, teachers and researchers wondering if this plan is realistic long term and how it will impact what students learn in school.
What does a 4-day school week look like?
Mia Venkat, a producer for NPR’s “Consider This”, made the case for four-day school weeks on TikTok by sharing the story of a school superintendent who crunched the numbers to figure out how a shorter week impacts the academic schedule.
Venkat says John Kuhn, a superintendent in Mineral Wells, Texas, was losing burned out teachers to districts with shorter weeks, so he researched the four-day plan in a bid to encourage more teachers to stay. “[He found that] by making the school day a little longer and the year start a little earlier, they’d have enough class time to take Fridays off,” she explains.
Of course, classroom hours aren’t the only factor to consider. Administrators also have to factor in the typical work schedule and what parents will do about child care if kids have more days off. Surprisingly, in Kuhn’s case, he found that switching to a four-day school week wouldn’t cause kids to have significantly more days off than they already do.
“They realized between holidays and teacher development days, they already had a bunch of four-day weeks,” Venkat says. “Those are days parents would have to sort out child care anyways. A lot of the time, it’d just be a matter of moving all those days to fall on a Friday, and parents with younger children would still have the option to bring them into school those days.”
Kuhn polled the parents in his district, and almost 70% supported the plan for a four-day week. In August, the Mineral Wells Independent School District made it official. Kids attend school Monday through Thursday and have a three-day weekend every week.
Mineral Wells is far from being the first district to consider or adopt such a plan. In 2018, an estimated 560 districts in 25 states had one or more schools on a four-day schedule. Since then, many more schools have adopted such plans in response to staff shortages, student absences and budgetary issues exacerbated by the pandemic. One 2021 study found that more than 1,600 schools have adopted a four-day week.
Are parents on board with a 4-day school week?
Though a four-day school schedule presents new challenges for finding child care and managing the family schedule, the available data indicate that most parents aren’t against the change. A 2021 study by the RAND Corporation found that 84% of parents with kids in four-day districts said they “probably” or “definitely” prefer a four-day school week to a five-day school week.
In response to Mia Venkat’s reporting on TikTok, dozens of people chimed in to express their own support of a shorter week at school.
“We are realizing that five days a week in school is inefficient,” one person claims. “Gaining time for rest, socializing and playing will promote a better society overall.”
Some even said they wouldn’t mind finding child care on Fridays, since the other school days would be a bit longer and possibly eliminate the need for after-school care.
While reduced schedules aren’t yet popular in the workplace, a majority of parents say they’d support cutting their own workweek to four days as well. A 2020 Harris poll found 82% of adults would prefer a four-day workweek even if it meant working longer days.
Are 4-day school weeks good for kids?
There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of a four-day school week, but some point to inherent problems with the plan if leaders don’t take the diverse needs of students into account.
In response to Venkat’s story, some expressed concern about kids who rely on school meals and what they would do during their extra time off. Others worried that kids who only go to school for four days would be academically disadvantaged.
There is limited peer-reviewed research on the benefits or disadvantages of kids going to school only four days per week, but the information we do have doesn’t point to negative outcomes.
In 2017, the Oklahoma State Department of Health conducted an analysis of the ways a four-day school week impacts food insecurity, academic performance and even youth crime. After an extensive review of data, the report says the analysis “did not reveal any clear-cut evidence to identify effects of the four-day school week on student outcomes.”
One 2015 study of students in Colorado found that switching to a four-day week had little to no impact on test scores and proficiency in math and reading. The more recent analysis by the RAND Corporation found that over the course of multiple years, students in four-day districts did show a slower rate of academic growth when compared with five-day districts, but it’s not clear if the results are related to the time spent in school or other factors.
The RAND Corporation study also found that four-day school weeks did not have a measurable impact on food insecurity or family resources. Four-day school weeks were even found to have a positive impact on multiple areas, including:
- School budgets.
- Behavioral and emotional well-being.
- School climate.
- Student and teacher attendance.
- Parent stress.
Five-day school and workweeks have been the standard for as long as many of us can remember, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way forward. The pandemic has challenged leaders at every level to be flexible and think outside the box. The four-day week is just one creative solution, and the widespread adoption of the plan highlights the real need for meaningful action that considers teachers’ and students’ mental and emotional well-being, just as much as test scores.