8 pros and cons of shortening your school week to 4 days

4-day school weeks may not save much money, reduce absences or attract teachers, research suggests
By: | October 14, 2021

Students and teachers may love three-day weekends, but there is some evidence that districts may be sacrificing academics in shortening the school week.

An analysis of four-day school weeks in five states—Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota—found evidence of educational harm, according to the RAND Corporation‘s new “Does Four Equal Five?” report.

“Test scores in four-day-school-week districts improved, but more slowly than they would have if the same schools had maintained a five-day school week,” RAND Corporation says in a news release.

“On the other hand, families and students in such districts—which are primarily in Western rural communities—reported highly valuing the extra time that the four-day schedule allowed the family to spend together.”

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District leaders who make the change tend to see the four-day school week, also known as “4dsw,” as a teacher-recruitment tool and a way to save money, particularly on non-instructional services.

But administrators who are considering adopted a 4dsw adoption should recognize there is only weak support for the three main reasons that districts typically make the change: saving money, reducing absences, and attracting and retaining teachers, researchers said.

They also cautioned that examining a school’s or district’s student achievement over time is not an adequate metric for assessing the effects of the 4dsw.

“Policymakers should take into account the overwhelming popularity of the 4dsw as they engage in community discussions about 4dsw adoption or switching back from a 4dsw to a 5dsw,” the report says.

Here are the report’s key insights into four-day weeks:

  1. 4dsw districts averaged longer and fewer school days, and fewer instructional hours over the course of a year.
  2. Students in grades K-6 and 7-12 reported having 4 hours and 3.5 hours of more free time per week compared to 5-day students.
  3. Cost savings were the major motivation for adopting the 4dsw, superintendents and school board members told researchers
  4. Most teachers say the four-day week is a “job perk” but not a reason for taking a jog while some administrators say it gives their schools or districts a competitive advantage in recruitment and retention.
  5. School principals, teachers, parents and students think students learned just as much or slightly more in four days compared to five. They also said the difference in instructional minutes had no effect on student achievement.
  6. Student achievement did not grow as fast after the adoption of the 4dsw policy compared with similar 5dsw districts.
  7. Elementary students in 4dsw districts got more school-week sleep than their peers in 5dsw districts, but there was no difference in the amount of sleep that middle and high school students got.
  8. Surveys revealed no significant difference in the stress levels of 4dsw and 5dsw parents. In focus groups, 4dsw parents report having more flexible schedules and more time with family.