Four- or Five-Day School Week: Which is Best?

School classroom | Image by BlurryMe/Shutterstock

In the education world, the debate over whether four- or five-day school weeks are the better option for students has been buzzing around many districts across the country, including those in Texas.

The four-day school week has become popular among smaller, rural districts in the Lone Star State since lawmakers passed HB 2610 in 2015, making the option possible. This legislation replaced language requiring 180 days of instruction per school year at districts and charter schools with new language requiring them to operate for a minimum of 75,600 minutes.

As previously reported in The Dallas Express, dozens of Texas school systems, such as Anna ISD, Runge ISD, Crosby ISD, and Alto ISD, are testing out the alternative schedule to lure high-quality teachers and reduce burnout.

After switching to the four-day school week, Anna ISD and Mineral Wells ISD have seen positive impacts on their campuses.

“We are finding that teachers appreciate having the extra day for planning, professional development, or personal responsibilities, which can contribute to job satisfaction and morale,” Karen Walker, director of communications at Anna ISD, told The Dallas Express. “Our students benefit from having more time for extracurricular activities, hobbies, and family time, giving them a balance between academic and personal commitments.”

Mineral Wells ISD, which made the switch in 2022, has reported improvements in hiring and STAAR test results. While initially admitting some hesitancy, the district superintendent, John Kuhn, told WFAA that it ultimately paid off.

“We were hopeful and very convinced that the number of minutes a kid sits in a chair or classroom isn’t the driving factor for quality of education,” Kuhn said. “We feel like the quality of the teacher is the most impactful thing for a student’s education.”

Kuhn also noted how the vast majority of teachers, parents, and students surveyed about the shift to four-day school weeks responded favorably.

The apparent success has led to other district leaders, including Joshua ISD, Hillsboro ISD, and Sanger ISD, signing off on the four-day school week for the 2024-2025 school year. Decatur ISD will join them a year later after the school board rejected rolling out the new schedule this upcoming term.

Nationwide, there has been an increase in the four-day schedule being adapted, according to Dr. Paul Thompson, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University. Speaking with SciLine, Thompson estimated last year that over 2,100 schools in 26 states had shifted to four-day weeks, representing a tremendous 900% increase over the past 20 years.

Thompson, whose research focuses on the effects of four-day school weeks, financial intervention systems, and changes in local and state funding for K-12 education, noted that flexibility was one of the biggest perks of a four-day school week.

“Giving flexibility for teachers for lesson planning, other things; giving flexibility in costs for school districts,” he said.

Meanwhile, students are able to dedicate more time to extracurricular activities, internships, jobs, and their families, and parents can schedule appointments for their children more easily. This suggests that student absenteeism—a significant issue in the wake of the lockdowns seen in the pandemic—might also be curbed by a more flexible schedule.

The four-day school week appeared to positively impact another critical issue in education: student misbehavior in the classroom. A study from the Center for Education Policy Analysis found that bullying incidents decreased by 31% and fighting incidents by 27%.

Advocates have also suggested that the four-day school week helps districts recruit and retain better-quality teachers. A survey conducted by EdWeek Research Center last December found that an abbreviated schedule would positively impact the decision to accept a job offer for roughly 75% of respondents, which included teachers, principals, and administrators.

Alongside boosting teacher morale and improving their work-life balance, the schedule switch could save districts significant money on transportation, food, and energy.

Although the four-day school week has been touted as having several advantages, some have suggested various downsides to the schedule.

Research has suggested that fewer instructional hours can negatively impact student achievement, especially in non-rural areas.

“What we’ve noticed is that schools that have the lower end of time in school seem to be the four-day school weeks where most of these detrimental achievement effects are present,” Thompson said, per SciLine. He noted that these negative effects hit elementary and middle school students the hardest.

Another concern regarding the four-day school week comes from parents who may struggle to find childcare options due to their work schedules. The effects of this can be multifold, with some research finding the abbreviated schedule correlated with poorer children having less access to nutritious meals and rises in juvenile crime.

“We’ve seen some evidence of this from survey data here in Oregon that students are getting less breakfast; they’re drinking more sugary beverages, which isn’t great for nutrition, and engaging in drug use at a higher rate,” reported Thompson.

“These are things that I think local communities should be aware of — parents should be aware of, school officials should be aware of — because it’s not just achievement that matters here,” he added.

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