A surprising number of school districts have switched to a four-day week

Hundreds of school districts across the country are cutting classes.

Louisiana’s Avoyelles Parish recently announced that it’s moving to a four-day school week next year, joining the approximately 560 school districts in 25 states that have already embraced three-day weekends year-round.

“We have to think outside of the box when it comes to stuff like this,” Avoyelles Parish School Board member Rickey Adams told central Louisiana NBC/CBS affiliate KALB on Wednesday, a day after the board voted 7-2 in favor of the shorter school week for its 5,300 students in the rural 10-school district.

The move is expected to cut costs, as Avoyelles Parish superintendent Blaine Dauzat told Yahoo News that, “We are dead last in the state in teachers’ salaries,” as well as help hire and retain teachers who would still be paid five-day salaries while working for four days, albeit by extending the length they teach during the days that they’re on.

Four-day weeks aren’t new — they’ve tended to cycle during times of financial crises, such as the 1930s and most recently during the Great Recession, when struggling Western states like Idaho, Missouri, South Dakota and Montana saw more schools drop either Mondays or Fridays to save transportation and utility costs one day per week. Today more than half of Colorado’s school districts (98 out of 178) have switched to a four-day week, as have about 40% of New Mexico’s districts. Schools in Florida (2012), Iowa (2013) and Texas (2016) have shortened their school weeks in the past few years, as well.

Center on Reinventing Public Education

Most districts run Monday through Thursday, although a few have gone the Tuesday through Friday route, and the remaining school days are extended about an hour or an hour and a half longer to deliver the same amount of instructional time over fewer days, as required by state law.

But while the shorter workweek may sound great on paper — especially for teachers, many of whom would like to enjoy the popular shortened workweek perk enjoyed by employees at Shake Shack and a growing roster of companies — many parents and educators are concerned about what the long-term effect of a shorter week will have on their kids’ education.

For one thing, academic outcomes have been mixed. While one Colorado study saw some higher math scores after students switched to four days, another found no significant difference. An unpublished Oregon study found a temporary decline in academic performance among minority, low-income and special needs students, in particular.

Worse, another recent study in Colorado estimated that shifting to a four-day schedule increased juvenile arrests for property crime (particularly larceny) by 73%.

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Critics also note that losing a day of school is especially hard on lower-income parents and dual-income households who have to scramble to find affordable child care an extra day each week now that their kids don’t have class. Also, many low-income students depend on public schools for breakfast and lunch, so they would also lose a couple of essential meals.

Paul T. Hill, a research professor at the University of Washington Bothell who founded the Center on Reinventing Public Education, has written several articles questioning the impact that four-day school weeks have on students.

“You can see where children of fairly privileged families said, ‘Oh here’s my chance to take my kid to the college-prep course or on a tour or to get involved in an enrichment project of some kind.’ The kids could come out fine from that,” he said in a 2017 interview. “But what we’re concerned about are two sets of kids. One, little kids who were, because of the way four-day weeks were structured, going to school a lot longer days; it wasn’t clear to anybody that they were able to handle that. Secondly, the kids of poorer families or families who weren’t two-earner families where the kids might be at loose ends on the fifth day.”

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But on the plus side, some schools have reported lower absentee rates from students and staff by switching to the shorter week. And some parents and teachers have said they enjoy the improved work-life balance of having an extra weekday to run errands or work on lesson plans. Third grade teacher Michelle Lopez, from Jal, New Mexico, told the United Federation of Teachers that, “We [now] have extended blocks of time during the week for reading and math interventions for students who need help. A lot of us come in on Fridays anyway for lesson plans and other paperwork.”

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