School & District Management

Recruitment Strategy? Teachers React to 4-Day School Weeks

By Caitlynn Peetz — January 18, 2024 5 min read
Man holding large pencil and marking X's  on an oversized calendar showing a 4 day work week.
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Two-thirds of teachers, principals, and school district leaders would be more likely to accept a job offer from a school district with a four-day week, according to a recent EdWeek Research Center survey.

Over the past decade, shortened school weeks have surged in popularity, with particular momentum in the past few years.

Four-day weeks have been adopted in almost 900 school districts nationwide, the Associated Press reported in September 2023. That’s up markedly from even four years earlier, in 2019, when about 650 districts in 24 states had adopted the schedule, but still a small portion of the nation’s more than 13,000 districts.

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Initially, the move was seen as a way to cut costs, but more recently, district leaders, particularly in rural areas, have used the abbreviated schedule as a way to draw in teachers looking for more flexible schedules.

In the EdWeek Research Center survey, administered between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6, teachers, principals, and school district leaders signaled the move could very well be a perk that would draw them to a job, highlighting the truncated schedule’s potential power as a recruitment strategy as districts struggle to fill openings. At the same time, some educators and policymakers have urged caution in switching to four days, particularly if the change translates into less instructional time.

A total of 924 educators—498 teachers, 266 district leaders, and 160 school leaders—participated in the nationally representative survey. Two-thirds, 66 percent, said they would be either slightly or much more willing to accept a job offer from a district with a four-day week. There was no significant difference in responses by job type.

Not only has the concept gained traction among educators, the general public is also more supportive than it’s ever been of four-day school weeks. More than half of U.S. adults last year, 53 percent, said they support the concept in the annual PDK International Poll. That was nearly twice the share of adults who supported the schedule two decades ago. The level of support was even similar among adults with school-age children at home, the firm found.

“There’s no indication that this trend is slowing down,” said Christopher Doss, a researcher at the RAND Corporation who has studied four-day school weeks. “In fact, it’s a policy that seems to be gathering steam and enjoying more support over time.”

Despite indicating they’d generally be more likely to want to work in a district with a four-day week, school and district leaders were less likely than teachers to say they support schedules that replace five days with four longer days. While 70 percent of teachers said they either somewhat or completely support the change, only 57 percent of school leaders and 60 percent of district leaders said the same. The vast majority of the respondents (94 percent) said their schools operate on a traditional five-day schedule.

Doss speculated that the disconnect could be attributable to how educators in different roles view the issue. Teachers, for example, may be thinking primarily about how it would affect their students and themselves, whereas school and district leaders could be more worried about the large-scale logistical impacts of such a change—on meal operations, transportation, or scheduling, for instance.

Research points to the importance of maintaining instructional time

Recent research about the effectiveness of four-day weeks has yielded mixed reviews.

One study, out of Oregon State University in 2022, found significant differences in achievement between students in schools with four-day weeks and those with a traditional five-day schedule, with those on the abbreviated schedule lagging behind. But, when they dug deeper the researchers found no significant differences in academic achievement between districts that used five-day schedules and those that used four-day schedules, as long as the districts with shorter weeks maintained a high or medium amount of instructional time.

“Based on the evidence so far, my biggest recommendation for districts considering a four-day week would be to protect your instructional time,” Doss said. “Really make sure that you fully make up for the hours that you lose on that fifth day.”

A study of Oklahoma middle and high schools found the model has possibly made schools calmer and safer, though it has had little to no impact on students’ attendance or academic achievement.

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Other research suggests districts can expect to save around 2 percent of their budgets when shortening their schedules, a relatively small total if schools are really looking to pinch pennies.

Most research has focused on smaller, rural districts that have adapted their schedules, largely because they made up the majority of early adopters. But a 2023 report examined one of the first metropolitan districts in the nation to adopt a four-day school week, a district outside of Denver. It concluded that larger districts that make the change could see a drop in teacher retention, student achievement, and home values within their boundaries, at least in the short-term.

It appears larger, more diverse, and more metropolitan districts are increasingly joining the ranks of those with four-day weeks.

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Missouri saw limited growth in the number of districts operating with four-day weeks for about a decade after the first district in the state adopted a four-day schedule in 2011. But that number jumped 70 percent between 2020 and 2021 alone, from 60 to 102, according to an analysis prepared for Missouri’s education department earlier this month. Missouri State University researchers estimate 146 districts in the state—more than a quarter—have now adopted the shortened schedule, Spectrum News reported in August 2023.

Districts that have shifted to four-day weeks more recently are less likely to be rural and more likely to have higher populations of special education students, English learners, and Hispanic and multiracial students, according to the state-commissioned analysis, which also found few differences in academic achievement and growth between districts with four-day and five-day schedules.

Families are fans of the shift to four-day school weeks

In a recent survey, RAND researchers found that the vast majority of students (85 percent) in four-day-week schools said they like the shorter week, and nearly 90 percent of parents of elementary school students said they were either mostly or very satisfied with the schedule.

In interviews with RAND, families said they enjoyed the ability to take children to medical appointments without them missing important instruction. Some families said the extra time at home with family was valuable, particularly as some parents in rural communities work long weekday hours on farms or in oil fields, Doss said.

“As policymakers try to grapple with the existing evidence and try to understand how or whether to allow the four-day school week to continue, it’s going to definitely be a consideration that those who are currently on the four-day school week like it,” Doss said. “So taking that away from them is not something that would generally be supported.”

A version of this article appeared in the January 31, 2024 edition of Education Week as Recruitment Strategy? Teachers React To 4-Day School Weeks

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