Brian D. Hadfield, Middle School Teacher, Chippewa Valley Public Schools, Michigan
In states where winter is marked by frigid temperatures and warm mittens, kids of all ages have traditions and rituals for conjuring up snow days. These kids can be found sleeping with a spoon under their pillow, putting their pajamas on backwards, or tossing ice cubes in the toilet. Students will do just about anything for an extra day off school – and how surprised would they be if this were a permanent feature of their week? What if instead of a five-day week, school districts switched to a four-day week? A concept dating back to the 1930’s, economic hardships now have districts examining and implementing this option more than ever before.
According to the Education Commission of the States, about 100 of the country’s approximately 15,000 school districts, in 17 states, use four-day weeks. An informal poll on edutopia.com indicates that 67% of over 2,700 polled favor this as a solution to school districts financial hardships. Surprisingly little research has been done on this topic, so as financial hardships mount, districts are being forced to weigh the pros and cons of this option on their own.
The biggest concern is what will happen to students that are away from the classroom every Friday or Monday, and are no longer the school’s responsibility. For many families, neither parent is home to watch their kids during the work week, which creates a dilemma of either leaving the child at home, unsupervised, or signing them up for potentially costly weekly camps or latchkey programs. There is also the argument that this extra day off gives students more time to forget valuable curriculum and potentially fall behind – an argument shared by critics of summer vacations for students. Other concerns relate to the extended school days that would be necessary for the four days remaining. Can students stay focused for that extra amount of time? If they are absent, are they going to miss that much more material?
Proponents of the four-day week say not to worry. The lost day, spread out over the four days, results only in about 10 extra minutes per class period. It is also pointed out that students have extra time to complete homework and do projects over the extended weekend. With online education being emphasized by states and districts, the extra weekday would allow for this. Other possible benefits include a rise in morale and decrease in absenteeism, by both staff and students. Additionally, parents finally have time to make appointments for their children that won’t conflict with school, take long-weekend family trips, or attend sporting events – all without sacrificing academic instruction.
Financial benefits, of course, are undeniable. Even in small districts, such as Peach County in Georgia, the cost benefits are clear: substitute costs down 76 percent, transportation costs down 35 percent, and utility costs are down by 8 percent. In addition, perhaps because of a reduction in stress and the regiment of a five-day week, disciplinary issues were down 40 percent. Even teachers, who are critical of less student contact time, see advantages of additional time to plan lessons, check papers, and prep for instruction.
Undeniably a divisive topic, the four-day school week is sure to move to the forefront of many school boards now and into the foreseeable future. Whether it harbors progressive potential or unwelcome challenges, many districts find themselves left with no choice but to give this new paradigm a fair consideration.