A Non-Monetary Argument for a Four Day School Week
A basic Google search on “4 day school week” will reveal a rather lively debate. Many rural schools in Colorado and Oregon, and around 90 districts in Oklahoma have switched to that model. The opposition centers on the following:
It doesn’t actually save money when all factors are considered
Increased juvenile crime
Increased cost for child-care
Longer hours for the youngest learners
No improvement to student scores
There is a growing (but still limited) body of research around many of these points. Money generally isn’t saved; there is some evidence to suggest crime has slightly increased; and parents do have to adjust to caring for their children. However, the data on student scores is either correlative at best, and contradictory at worst. And most of the data centers around rural (and poor) districts, who already suffer from lower test scores, limited funds, inadequate child-care services. Urban areas are just beginning to experiment with the idea of four day school weeks.
Considering the data is still somewhat up in the air, and the movement hasn’t been expanded far enough to draw a conclusive path forward, I’d like to offer a normative reason to move to a four day school week.
Attraction of Teachers
As a teacher myself, I would love a four day school week. A sizeable reason is that it leaves me more time throughout the week to either plan lessons or enjoy my weekends a little more. I wouldn’t chalk this up simply to, “I wanna work fewer hours.” Most models of four day school week maintain the exact same instruction time, so I’m working as often as I would in a five day school week. It’s not about working less -- it’s about living better.
Teacher retention is already hard enough with stagnating teacher pay. But as I see it, few teachers make it past the five-year mark in large part due to the fact that cultures in school are not conducive to a healthy work environment. I’m fortunate that my school has more or less bucked this trend. But most public (and even private) schools suffer from increased paperwork and bureaucracy, dealing with overbearing or unresponsive parents, and unsupportive administrators (who may or may not be doing their best).
A third day on the weekend can alleviate the pressure teachers face from these factors. A third day to relax, to catch up on grading, to improve lesson plans, to mentally take care of themselves, to finally go to the dentist without taking a day off… each of these reasons are non-data, non-monetary justifications to support a four day school week. And they’re all attractive to young and veteran teachers alike to stay teaching.
Benefit to Families
Could you as a student imagine how much happier your week would be knowing that you get to have another day of the week with your friends? Or as a senior, you can earn a little extra cash at a job to build up savings for college? Or as a parent that you could get that eye-doctor appointment without your kid missing a test? Or how about finally being able to justify giving your child those piano or martial arts lessons they’ve been begging to do?
Child-case expense is a big potential problem with a three day weekend. But, I’d like to theorize an economic reason why expenses would be somewhat subdued. Yes, at current levels, the supply for child-care at the newer levels of demand with a three day weekend would raise prices. But, as the model becomes the norm, those prices will attract newer providers. Consider the possibilities:
Increased traditional care at competitive pricing
Co-ops of parents organizing babysitting efforts
Older students who (with their day off) are willing to nanny for a lower price
Instructors of art, music, physical activities who are thirsty to profit with their typically under-demanded skills
There's also the probability that as a local community, businesses would evolve to manage employee hours to match the school schedule. The movement for shorter weeks but longer hours is growing in the corporate world, not just education.
Anecdotally, from my mother who teaches in a rural district with a four day week, she has not seen an overall negative effect. I asked if the “vacation” effect played a role. As in, did she have a hard time bringing students back from the weekend to focus on school? In general, no. Students can take their Saturday playing sports, Sunday with family, and Monday on homework or long-term projects. She’s seen an increased commitment from both students and parents, and she herself feels that time is utilized far more effectively than before.
Data is still revealing the truth about four day school weeks. But I believe for the purposes of community, family, and mental health, there are non-monetary reasons for school districts to move to the shorter week model. I am not overly concerned with the economic changes that would take place. Communities adjust, and the increased expense for child care would be mitigated in the medium to long term.
Four day school weeks are good for teachers who are exhausted, students who are bored, parents who are frustrated, and one-man entrepreneurs who are hungry to provide services to families.