More schools turning to four-day weeks
Administrators hope to boost staffing
Audrey Bernards grew up attending schools in Amity, Ore., that met four days a week. “I noticed a big difference between me and my friend who went to a five-day school week,” she said, describing her friend as more rushed. Bernards was a three-sport athlete and participated in theater and student leadership. “It was so much easier for me to stay on top of my homework and other areas of life because I wasn’t in school that extra day.”
In 1999, 257 schools in the United States had four-day school weeks. Today, that number is above 1,600. Kansas is a microcosm of that nationwide growth. The state has 25 school districts with four-day school weeks out of about 290 districts total. This fall, Argonia Public Schools will become the 26th Kansas district to implement a four-day school week, with Mondays off.
Some districts have turned to four-day school weeks in response to budget shortages. But others gravitate to the model to grow their faculty and enrollment.
“The initial view of it was, ‘Could this be a way to attract some students?’” said Rustin Clark, superintendent of Argonia Public Schools. The small, rural district has about 150 students enrolled in its two schools.
Last fall, the board started seriously considering four-day weeks. Members visited some nearby districts that already adopted the modified schedule. “We had some pretty good data to look at,” Rustin Clark said. “It was a universal—everybody loved it.”
In Oregon, Amity School District originally shortened the school week to cut costs, saving up to roughly 5 percent of its budget. School administrators found that parents also enjoyed the Monday through Thursday school week. ”They love having their kids at home for three straight days,” said Jeff Clark, superintendent of Amity School District. He said students also appreciate the four-day school week because of the extra time for family, homework, and extracurricular activities. “They would never want to go back to a five-day week,” he said.
It also hasn’t limited the time students get to spend with educators. “If you actually look at the number of student contact hours that we have in our district, it’s as many or more than the five-day weeks,” Jeff Clark said. Amity has 7.5 hour school days while many schools in the area meet for closer to six hours each day.
The schedule is helpful for staff, as well. “Our pay scale might not be quite as high as some of our surrounding districts,” said Mary Matocha, principal of Amity Middle School. “But you’ll have that opportunity to either use that fifth day for your career or additional time with your family.” She said extra time with family “makes a difference” for educators, who already sacrifice a lot of their free time throughout the year.
Back in Kansas, Argonia board members also found that four-day weeks helped attract and retain staff. School officials said they’ve received job applications specifically mentioning the four-day schedule as a reason for the applicant’s interest.
One of the biggest concerns about four-day weeks is childcare. “That was a concern when [other districts] started years ago. But that concern only lasted one year, and now everybody loves it,” Rustin Clark said. The community adjusts to the schedule, with some parents rearranging their schedules to work at home one day a week or hiring teenagers to babysit on their days off.
When Argonia switches to four-day weeks, it will offer childcare on Mondays for pupils in kindergarten through sixth grade, charging $25 per child per day. With those prices, the district isn’t making any money, but the costs to the district are lower than running a fifth school day.
Little long-term research exists on how four-day school weeks affect student achievement. Much of the available research focuses on schools that cut the hours that students spend in school, meaning it may be less applicable for schools that plan to maintain the number of total hours that children are in school.
In a February 2022 study published in Economics of Education Review, researchers Paul N. Thompson and Jason Ward found that while it appears that four-day school weeks correlate with lower academic achievements in math and language arts, those districts had less time in school.
In Argonia, school officials don’t want to lose valuable time with students. Officials lengthened school days by about 25 minutes and added about six days to the calendar. On top of that, the Argonia school board chose to take Mondays off in part because many holidays fall on Mondays.
“At this point we feel prepared, but we’ve never done it,” Rustin Clark said. “We’ll have to see what happens when things get started in the fall.”
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