School districts in metropolitan areas looking to cut a day from their academic week should be prepared to see drops in teacher retention, student achievement, and home values within their boundaries, at least in the short-term, according to new research.
The mostly rural districts that have turned to the abbreviated week often cite reduced operating costs, improved teacher morale, and boosts in student attendance as reasons for the switch, but the new report calls into the question the use of four-day weeks, particularly in larger school districts in more densely populated areas.
The researchers, looking at a Colorado school district outside Denver, found smaller increases in home values compared with surrounding districts with traditional calendars, a decrease in the retention of experienced teachers, and a decline in student achievement on standardized tests.
“These results suggest the decision to adopt a [four-day week] in a metropolitan setting should not be taken lightly,” the report says.
The report, published last month, examines one of the first metropolitan districts in the nation to adopt a four-day school week. It’s also the first study to examine how the new schedule affects home values.
The report focuses on School District 27J in Brighton, Colo., which moved to a four-day week in 2018 after voters shot down a property tax increase intended to increase teacher pay.
District officials did not respond to a request for comment.
More than 1,600 school districts had adopted a four-day school week as of the 2019-20 school year. While that’s a small percentage of the nation’s school districts, they make up a substantial portion of districts in a handful of states, including Colorado, where 60 percent of districts use four-day school weeks.
The new data, focused on the two years following the change, offer a glimpse at the four-day week’s effect on metro districts, where there are often other nearby teaching opportunities and other education options for students.
Rural districts are most likely to adopt a four-day school week for budgetary reasons—specifically if their per-pupil transportation costs are high, the report says. The idea is that stopping buses for an additional day can save fuel and delay some maintenance needs. In reality, districts operating on an abbreviated schedule generally save about 0.4 percent to 2.5 percent of their budget, according to a study by the Education Commission of the States.
The Colorado district of about 19,000 students expected to save more than $1 million (about 1 percent of its annual operating budget) by making the switch. The cost of new initiatives largely offset any potential savings, the report said.
For homeowners, the decision likely cost them more than the tax increase they rejected would have.
Researchers concluded that while home values in the district didn’t decrease, they didn’t rise as quickly as homes in nearby districts that didn’t implement a shorter week, and they didn’t rise at the level expected based on the trajectory of home value increases prior to the four-day week.
It’s estimated that homeowners paid between $700 and $6,000 more than they would have in increased taxes in the form of lower home prices.
“In this case, what we found was that the outcome of not enough funding to support competitive teacher pay, and voting to not increase taxes to make teacher pay competitive, resulted in greater financial loss in terms of housing prices,” said Frank Perrone, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Indiana University and one of the report’s three authors.
Adam Novak, an associate professor at West Virginia University, and Patrick Smith, an associate professor of finance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, were the other two authors.
Impact on students and teachers
The researchers found a statistically significant decline in students’ performance on math and English standardized tests in the years following the transition to a four-day week.
That decrease is likely attributable to the schedule switch, the report says, because there weren’t notable changes in student demographics, and other nearby districts didn’t experience comparable drops.
It’s not clear if any subgroups of students performed better academically after the switch, Perrone said, because researchers only had access to aggregate grade-level data.
The change also didn’t help the district keep teachers in their jobs, even though some districts with four-day weeks have pointed to the schedule as a perk.
The report estimates that switching to a four-day school week decreased the probability that teachers would return the next year by 3 percentage points.
And the impact was greater on mid-career teachers—those with five to 15 years of experience—who were 5 percentage points less likely to return to the district.
Teachers with less experience generally have a more difficult time moving because they can point to less evidence of their effectiveness in the classroom. On the other end of the spectrum, those with more than 10 years of experience can take a hit to their salaries if they switch jobs because districts’ salary schedules often only give credit for up to a decade of experience.
Those factors could have contributed to early and late-career teachers’ decisions to stay, despite the change to a shortened week.
Long-term effect still unknown
While the initial findings about the switch to a four-day week are concerning, Perrone said, the long-term findings could be different.
“We just can’t really know for sure yet,” he said. “I think [this research] is more about if a district was driven to this point, for voters to be aware of potential impacts for themselves and for their districts.”
Research focused on smaller, more rural districts that have made the switch suggests those districts see slower rates of academic progress than districts with traditional calendars.
That research also addresses other key considerations districts make when deciding on a schedule aside from academic achievement. For example, it said most students in the four-day model spent their “off day” at home, and students didn’t seem to experience higher absenteeism or food insecurity.