Facing mounting challenges, schools embrace the 4-day week

(The Hill) — 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 for Columbia University.

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

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Governors in multiple states have turned to creative solutions to tackle teacher shortages, including bringing in 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.

Bishop McCort Catholic High School, a small private institution in rural Pennsylvania, started discussions about a four-day week a year and a half ago and is implementing the change this academic year.

Principal Thomas Smith told The Hill one of the big reasons for the move was to preemptively stave off any concern of a teacher shortage, adding that the change was supported by a vast majority of parents.

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On the day school is out, which is sometimes Friday and sometimes Monday, Bishop McCort gives other educational opportunities to students and offers for teachers to come in to help those days for extra money.

“We felt that it would be a great thing for us to make Fridays optional for students and provide what we call enrichment opportunities or enrichment Fridays for our kids,” Smith said.

“For example, we have created partnerships with local universities that will be coming into our school house on Fridays, and providing college enrichment opportunities for our kids […] We have drone flying and drone building classes we’re going to be offering our students. We have a marine biology class that we’re going to offer,” he added.

On last Friday’s first enrichment day of the year, the principal said they were able to fill two buses of students for a trip to the Flight 93 National Memorial.

“I believe we’ve lost maybe one or two families through this transition, but over 30 people have transferred into our school. We think a lot of it is due to this positive change in our educational platform that we have here,” Smith said.

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.

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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.

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