More school districts across the country are implementing four-day weeks.
The move usually comes to save money, but many administrators say it has other benefits as well, such as the academic gains that might be achieved through a longer school day and as an enticement for recruiting teachers.
Late last month, the Cobre Consolidated School Board in New Mexico voted to go to a four-day academic week starting next school year.
Cobre Superintendent Robert Mendoza told the Silver City Sun-News the change was the result of a state budget crunch.
“The financial strain and all the cuts that have happened prompted us to look outside the box, and this is what we came up with,” Mendoza said.
In the state of Missouri, nearly 20 districts have gone to this schedule. The Lathrop school district near Kansas City paved the way during the 2010-11 academic year when it adopted a four-day week due to financial strain.
We spoke to Lathrop Superintendent Chris Fine about the schedule. He was a middle school principal during the transition to the new calendar and became the district’s superintendent in the 2011-12 school year.
In his district, students attend class Tuesday through Friday. They’re in school for 149 days from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. That’s nearly 1,100 hours of school time per year. One Monday a month is reserved for a full-day professional development session. Fine estimates that the move saves his district about $125,000 annually.
Below is a lightly edited version of our conversation.
Your district went to a four-day week during a rough economic time for your state. Things are better now, but you’re staying with the shorter week. Why?
Some of the benefits that we’ve seen from the four-day week aren’t financially related. The improvement in our professional development opportunities has been a big plus. We increased the number of hours of instruction on the course of the year without increasing teacher time. That was a benefit, and we do believe that that is a good selling point for us in recruiting and attracting good teachers. Some of the other benefits far outweighed the financial benefits. I don’t think we could go back at this point.
What would you say has been the biggest advantage for our district?
Before, we did the 13 early-out Wednesdays (for professional development) that we had scheduled for a two-hour time, but the teachers had taught all day and so some of those weren’t as productive. Then everybody wants to quit a little early, so we weren’t getting all those hours out of that time. The uninterrupted days of school have been very beneficial from our elementary standpoint. Every time we did those early-outs, they felt like that was a whole wasted day because the kids were all fired up and weren’t in their best learning mode. Now every day is seven and a half hours, so there’s no difference for them.
What about the impact of the increased hours of instruction?
In Missouri, we are required to go 1,044 hours. Prior to our switch over, we had averaged 1,065. I had done a study in grad school about ACT scores and hours of instruction, and it was obvious that those schools that had more hours of instruction showed an increase in ACT scores. The 1,065 was in the bottom 25 percent of the schools in the state, and 1,100 is closer to the top half of the state. We were able to add 30 hours of instruction a year without increasing teacher time. I think that was a pretty good benefit, too, so those are the three. I don’t know if there’s any one that’s more important than the other.
On the flip side, what do you see as being the biggest drawback?
Support staff salary cuts. That has to be the most painful part of the whole thing. Some of our best people took a 15 percent pay cut, and according to some of our staff, are just now recovering that amount of money. After working here six or seven years, they’re back to where they were before on the raise side. That’s probably the hardest part of the thing. To save that money, most of that money came from support staff pay cuts.
Are you surprised that more and more districts are going to four-day weeks?
I’m probably surprised that more aren’t doing it.
What would you say is the top thing that districts should consider when they’re thinking about going to a four-day week?
Number one is are the teachers going to be on board. Everything you do is about people and not about programs. All of our staff are on board with it. That helped.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Time and Learning blog.