More school districts embracing 4 day week

Hundreds of U.S. school districts have sought to combat the teacher shortage and raise the quality of life for their students and faculty by making a big change: a four-day week.

The trend of a four-day week has been rising among American companies and schools since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, with many finding benefits to having an extra day off. In schools, most students and teachers are getting Friday or Monday off while having slightly longer school days the rest of the week to make up for the missing day. 

“The number of school districts with a four-day school week has increased to about 850 districts nationally. Two years ago, it was around 650, so it’s going up,” said Aaron Pallas, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

The trend towards four-day school weeks is in part a response to multiple educational issues that flared up during the pandemic, including teacher retention and absenteeism.

Governors in multiple states have turned to creative solutions to tackle teacher shortages, including bringing educators from other states or even veterans to take over classrooms.

The four-day week has largely been implemented in smaller communities grappling with the problem, according to Pallas. 

“Many small, rural districts have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers, and the theory is that teachers will value an additional day that they can spend with their families, an additional day that can allow for teacher preparation, grading and planning,” he said.

“The other reason that sometimes is invoked is increasing attendance. Because many of the districts that are using a four-day school week are rural, there can be long commutes for kids, and reducing the number of days limits the number of long commutes to get to school and for school events,” he added. 

Over 70 school districts across Texas have now switched to four-day school weeks, often in a bid to prevent teacher turnover. Some districts offer a hybrid schedule, with four-day weeks for part of the year.

Districts in all parts of Texas have made the change, with the schedule proving particularly popular in rural districts. Districts around the Texas Panhandle that have switched to four-day school weeks include:

Follett ISD

Channing ISD

Spring Creek ISD

Kelton ISD

Groom ISD

Happy ISD

Silverton ISD

Follett ISD, Groom ISD, and Happy ISD have adopted a “hybrid” schedule with four-day weeks for part of the year, while the others have adopted a four-day week for the entire school year.

In 2015, Texas lawmakers passed a bill that changed how classroom instruction was timed. Districts no longer had to provide 180 days of classes, but instead a minimum of 75,600 minutes. Requiring minutes instead of a set number of days gave districts more flexibility in how they scheduled classes.

Principal of Channing ISD Karlton Graves said that since the school has adopted the four-day school week he has many benefits for everyone.

“I don’t think there’s a single person that doesn’t benefit in some way from it. Parents, it’s one less day they have to get because we arrived in the middle of the nowhere more or less. So, we rely on transfers from other schools. And that’s an extra day those parents don’t have to get their kids up at six o’clock in the morning and on the bus.

“So, we have had to adjust and modify when and how long our length of curriculum is for that because of, you know, losing that day. So, we have to change how many hours per day they are in those classrooms and how many hours they’re doing other things as well. So, our school days a little bit longer with that,” Graves said.

Follett ISD is using a modified school calendar for the second year. 

“So, this gave us an opportunity to really recruit some teaching staff compared to the areas in our surrounding area. So, we may be might not be able to provide the increase in our salaries, however, we’re able to get this benefit to help prepare students. 

"Teachers are the number one indicator of success in a child’s educational career. So, the quality of the teacher and instruction have the greatest impact on our students.

“We’re actually increasing the minimum minutes of instruction over the school year. So, when we broke down the numbers, we’re at 77,700 minutes for our school year of instruction. Where when you’re doing a traditional, it’s 76,680.

“So, we’re actually increasing our instructional minutes and we’re not losing that many days. So overall, we’re seeing a great impact on this and our teachers, our families, and the students seem to really enjoy that modified calendar.

“So, 74% of our community were in favor of piloting the modified calendar, and then about 10% of the community said it might be an issue with childcare. However, this really hasn’t seemed to be a huge issue. It’s allowed our young adults in the school to step forward and help serve our youth,” Superintendent Megan Roberston said.

Crosby ISD, in Harris County just outside Houston, recently became the largest district in the state to adopt a four-day week. The district, which serves almost 6,500 students.

“Our why is simple and straightforward,” Superintendent Paula Patterson said. “We want to find, recruit and retain the best teachers in the state in the classrooms for our students. This change immediately makes Crosby ISD a top destination for educators in Harris County.”

Districts statewide have been struggling with teacher retention, particularly since the start of the Covid pandemic. Across Texas, a record number of teachers retired or resigned in the 2021-22 school year, many citing low pay and increasing workloads without additional planning time.

District after district making the switch cited teacher retention as a big advantage of the schedule change. Alto ISD, south of Tyler, said the four-day week offered a “competitive advantage in hiring high-quality faculty and staff.”

A presentation from New Waverly ISD, north of Houston said, “We believe that the implementation of a four-day instructional week may offer NWISD a pathway to retain and attract high-quality instructors.”

And in La Vernia ISD, just east of San Antonio, a survey of staff found 82% were interested in a four-day week, with one teacher saying they would probably use the Fridays off for grading and planning.

All three districts approved changes to their schedules in February, with three-year pilot programs set to begin next school year.

A recently-published report by the Teacher Vacancy Task Force highlighted the need to “demonstrate respect and value for teacher time.” The report, by the Texas Education Agency, said teachers are responsible for so much more than just teaching, from finding and making copies of instructional materials to completing paperwork and attending meetings and professional development.

Districts have touted the four-day instructional week for providing the fifth day for teachers to complete some of those additional tasks.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath is not sold on the four-day week, though. In a March 1 hearing of the state’s Senate Committee on Education, Morath said the schedule shift is “harmful for student achievement on balance,” unless certain conditions are met.

Morath said districts would have to shift “very, very thoughtfully.” For example, any academic disruptions during the week, such as field trips, athletic competitions, extracurriculars and other reasons for students being pulled out of class, should be moved to the non-class day.

The “educational experience” on the four class days would then have to be thoughtfully organized to maximize instructional time. On the fifth day, teachers would have “built-in reflection time” and training or professional development time.

“There is a subset of districts that when they make those sets of shifts, it does not reduce student achievement,” Morath said. “I still don’t have any data that shows it increases student achievement, but if all those conditions are true, it is not openly harmful to student achievement. But if all of those conditions are not true, the data is pretty clear. It just reduces student achievement.”

Many districts are hoping a shorter school week will improve attendance, and in turn, improve achievement. A presentation by China Spring ISD, just outside Waco, said the attendance in the district is about 1.5 percentage points lower than before the pandemic. The district is currently considering making the switch.

“If the four-day week improves student attendance just to pre-COVID rates, it will increase funding by a little over $300,000,” the presentation states. Funding for school districts in Texas is directly tied to student attendance. “When students improve their attendance rates, they improve their academic performance.”

There are, however, lingering concerns nationally about shedding a day in class, including parents struggling to find child care and getting meals to hungry students.

“I’ve seen some districts that make child care available, but parents have to pay for it, like 30 dollars a day, and that’s a real direct cost to parents,” Pallas said.

It is also unclear how the extra-long school days will affect students, who have to be in class a certain number of hours to meet state requirements.

“There is some concern that kids get worn down by long school days, particularly for younger children, long school days challenge their attention spans,” Pallas said.

The real test will be how the four-day week will affect students academically, with little evidence yet available on its effect on learning. 

“I think that there’s a chance that this will continue for a while, especially as long as we don’t have evidence of what the academic consequences are. But if we do start to learn that the academic benefits are really drawbacks, and if there really aren’t significant cost savings — that will likely slow the momentum,” Pallas said.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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