School & District Management

Four-Day School Weeks Gain Ground in the West

By Sarah D. Sparks — February 05, 2020 1 min read
Man holding large pencil and marking X's  on an oversized calendar showing a 4 day work week.
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Less than 2 percent of public schools nationwide hold class less than five days a week—but in the West, more than 1 school in 20 uses a shortened school week.

In fact, 14 states now have at least some schools using a four-day week, according to new data from a state- and nationally representative survey of teachers and principals in 10,600 traditional and charter public schools. Separate federal data from the survey also finds about 2.6 percent of private schools use a short week.

The shortened schedules are billed as a way to save money, add extracurricular programs without lengthening students’ bus rides, and entice teachers to remote and hard-to-staff schools. Among schools using combined grades and those with 200 students or less, about 7 percent use shortened weeks, and the survey found the tiniest schools make up the overwhelming majority of campuses with this model.

Advocates of the shortened week argue having fewer, longer school days can improve student attendance and staff development. In a letter to Education Week, Principal C. Pete Peterson of Panaca Elementary, said his school’s move to a four-day schedule had neither raised nor lowered student test scores—but it had helped academics compete with athletics in the remote Panaca, Nev. community:

When students have games on Fridays and have to travel distances, they must miss school and so must some of their teachers. Our nearest competitor, for example, is two hours away. With three sports in every season, it is often difficult to find substitutes on Fridays. In a school where there are only a couple hundred students, half of whom participate in athletics, there may only be 100 students in the school on any given game day. Those students often receive only busywork or watch a movie in class. Education is simply not happening. ... If sports are scheduled only on Fridays when school is not in session, however, it cuts down on the call for substitute teachers and wasted class time.

But the jury is still out on whether shorter schedules really benefit districts, students, or their families. For more on how this model looks on the ground, check out this PBS Newshour video, in which then- Education Week Correspondent Kavitha Cardoza visited the Cobre Consolidated School District in New Mexico, which made the change just before the state declared a moratorium on the practice:

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.