Use of Four-Day School Week Schedules Increasing Despite Lack of Evidence on Outcomes

February 24, 2020

Shortened School Weeks in U.S. Public Schools”There is an increasing trend among schools and districts to reduce the school week from five days to four (longer) days.  Much of the impetus of this structural intervention comes from the perception that this schedule would generate significant cost savings.  Additionally, there is a belief that it positively impacts student achievement, teacher recruitment, and other quality indicators.  Unfortunately, the lack of experimental evidence makes it difficult to prove or disprove most of the claims.  

In the 2017-18 school year approximately 1.9% of public schools provided shortened school weeks.  Eight states had more than 10% of their schools on this schedule, with Wyoming having almost twenty percent of its schools on a four-day week.  In general, rural schools and those in the West were more likely to adopt this model.  (NCES, 2020).

The number of school districts operating on a four-day schedule grew by 466% over the last three years.   There were 120 districts in 21 states in 2016 and 560 districts in 25 states in 2019.  Over half of Colorado’s districts now operate on four-day weeks. (Walker, T., 2019)

Proponents claim that the model saves money, improves student performance, helps with teacher recruitment and retention, reduces student absenteeism, and improves the quality of life for all involved as they have an extra day away from school to take care of personal business.  Opponents challenge these claims and highlight the potential new costs for parents, loss of wages for support professionals, and reduced access to services for low income students.

Regarding potential savings, the analysis is straightforward.  The Education Commission of the States conducted a detailed analysis calculating that the maximum savings for a district was 5.43%, but that the more likely average is in the .4% to 2.5% range. Many of the largest costs such as salaries, facilities, administrative costs, etc. are not affected by fewer days (Griffith, M., 2011).

Unfortunately, large-scale experimental studies on the other stated pros and cons of this intervention are as of yet nonexistent.  The studies that have been completed are often non- or quasi-experimental and produce results that are inconsistent, inconclusive, or show negative impact (Heyward, G., 2018).  Additionally, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of this intervention because, as with most structural interventions, the 4 day school schedule does not represent any particular teaching or educational model.  It is just a work schedule.  Regardless, “the idea has proved contagious because adults like it”.  (Hill, 2017).

Citation(s):  NCES. (2020). Shortened School Weeks in U.S. Public Schools. NCES 2020-011. National Center for Education Statistics.

Griffith, M. (2011). What Savings Are Produced by Moving to a Four-Day School Week?. Education Commission of the States (NJ3).

Heyward, G. (2018). What Do We Actually Know About the Four-Day School Week? Center on Reinventing Public Education 

Hill, P.T. & Heyward, G.,  (2017).  A Troubling Contagion: The Rural 4-Day School Week.  Brookings Institute, Brown Center Chalkboard.

Long, C. (2019). Four-Day School Weeks More Popular, But Impact on Students and Educators Unclear. neaToday 

National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). (2019). Four-Day School Week Overview 

Walker, T. (2019). After Moving to a Four-Day School Week, There May Be No Going Back. neaToday