Guest post by Jackie Mader, cross-posted from Rural Education.
School districts that adopted a four-day school week in rural Idaho experienced no significant cost savings, and some districts even saw costs rise to accommodate the resulting longer school day, according to a new report.
The Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho interviewed officials in more than 20 districts that have switched to a shorter week, some of which hoped to save money. Researchers found that because most employee salaries are fixed, districts did not save money on personnel. Many school districts shied away from reducing hours for hourly employees, which could have produced small savings, out of concern for the well-being of those employees and their families. Using buses and buildings for four days each week instead of five “does not affect the bottom line,” researchers concluded, and “only districts with unusual cost structures due to extremely long daily bus trips or high numbers of hourly staff can truly cut costs” by switching to a four-day week.
The report also found that in some Idaho districts, where switching to a shorter week resulted in longer school days, schools had to spend more money on enrichment activities and snacks for students due to the extended time spent in school.
Nationwide, at least 120 school districts in 21 states use a four-day week, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In Idaho, 42 of the state’s 115 school districts have adopted a four-day week. The schedule is most common for small, rural districts because it can reduce costs, especially for transportation in those that span large, isolated geographic areas. Some districts have said they also hope to increase student and staff morale or attract and retain teachers by switching to a shorter week.
The Idaho report did find some benefits to a four-day week, but those benefits are largely dependent on how a school district chooses to use the extra day. Some districts use the extra day to offer enrichment or college visits for students, or professional development for teachers, while other districts handed out homework packets, which the report said were rarely graded. Researchers also found that many parents appreciate the longer school day because it is more closely aligned to work hours.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.