The number of schools opting for a shortened week is on the rise. So, too, is regard for the four-day schedule among educators and the public.
The adoption of four-day weeks increased around 2008 as a number of mostly rural districts tried to cut costs during the Great Recession. But the rise in districts using four-day weeks has been particularly pronounced since the pandemic. This time around, schools are making the switch more often with a goal of boosting teacher recruitment and retention.
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.
In Colorado, nearly two-thirds of districts run on four-day schedules, along with individual schools elsewhere in the state, according to the Colorado School Finance Project. And more than a quarter of Missouri districts have four-day weeks. But nationwide, it’s still only a small segment of the nation’s 13,000-plus school districts.
Nearly 95 percent of educators in a recent EdWeek Research Center survey said their districts still have a traditional, five day schedule.
Still, as more districts adopt the four-day model, community members, teachers, principals, and district leaders are becoming increasingly supportive, according to research.
When it comes to academic outcomes, research on four-day weeks has yielded mixed reviews. Researchers advise districts switching to a four-day week to ensure they don’t cut back on instructional time in making the change.
“Really make sure that you fully make up for the hours that you lose on that fifth day,” said Christopher Doss, a researcher at the RAND Corporation who has studied four-day school weeks.
Here’s a look at what the research says about public perceptions of four-day school weeks.
Four-day weeks appeal to teachers, principals, and district leaders
Many districts have cited a four-day week as a tool for recruiting and retaining teachers, particularly in recent years as districts, regardless of size or locale, have struggled to maintain a full roster of educators.
And while the first wave of districts that adopted the four-day week were largely rural with a mostly white population, some more recent converts to the schedule have been in metropolitan areas and more racially diverse.
In theory, the approach appeals to educators.
Two-thirds of teachers, principals, and district leaders who responded to an EdWeek Research Center survey in December said they’d be either slightly or much more willing to accept a job offer from a district with a four-day school week.
A 2021 study of four-day school weeks in Idaho, New Mexico, and Oklahoma conducted by the RAND Corporation found that leaders in districts with the abbreviated schedule believed it gave them a competitive edge in recruitment and retention, with many reporting long-empty vacancies finally being filled and more job applications when there were openings.
Teachers are more supportive than principals, superintendents
Teachers tend to be more supportive of four-day weeks than school and district leaders, according to the EdWeek Research Center survey results from a nationally representative survey of 924 educators conducted between Nov. 30 and Dec. 6, 2023.
Seventy percent of teachers said they support the abbreviated week, compared with 60 percent of school leaders and 57 percent of district leaders.
Doss, from the RAND Corporation, says the disconnect could stem from differing points of view depending on educators’ roles. Teachers may be thinking primarily about how it would affect their students and themselves. Conversely, school and district leaders are likely thinking about the logistical impacts of such a large-scale change on things like meal operations, transportation, and scheduling, he said.
Public support is growing
Between 2003 and 2023, the public’s support for four-day school weeks as a means to save money more than doubled. In 2003, 25 percent of the general public said they would favor the move, compared with 53 percent in 2023, according to the results of polls conducted by PDK International.
Even parents like four-day schedules
As part of their 2021 analysis of four-day weeks, RAND researchers asked parents of elementary-aged students in schools in Idaho, New Mexico, and Oklahoma how satisfied they were with the shortened schedule. Nearly three-fourths said they were very satisfied, and just 6 percent said they were either mildly or quite dissatisfied.
Parents of younger kids hold those opinions despite the fact that about 90 percent of them reported that their children primarily spent the fifth day of the week at home. Less than 1 percent said their children were at home without adult supervision.
In interviews with RAND researchers, parents said they were able to adjust their families’ schedules to align with the school schedule. In some families, one parent did not work outside the home, the researchers reported. In others, parents had flexible work schedules that allowed them to be home on the fifth day. Some families reported having multiple generations living in the home, with a retired or non-working adult able to care for children on the fifth day.
Students are big fans of the four-day week
Eighty-five percent of high school students who were asked by RAND about their four-day schedule said they “like it a lot.”
Like elementary students, middle and high school students were most likely to spend the fifth day at home or at someone else’s home. They said they spent their spare time catching up on rest, working on school assignments, completing chores, and hanging out with friends, according to RAND.
The RAND researchers estimated that the districts with four-day school weeks that they studied had slightly higher attendance than comparable districts with a five-day week. The researchers said those with four-day weeks had an average attendance rate of 93.4 percent, compared with a 92.9 percent average attendance rate in the comparison districts with a five-day week.