The Rise of Four-Day School Weeks Presents Parents with a Fifth-Day Challenge

by Chloe Baker
Four-day school weeks

On a September Monday, the Pruente family home is bustling but not with the usual school activities. Thirteen-year-old Callahan performs a backbend, Hudson, 7, tinkers with a balloon, while Keegan, 10, practices the piano.

These children are among the increasing number of American students now attending school only four days a week, a schedule newly implemented this fall by their school district in Independence, Missouri.

While the children relish the extra day off—Hudson eagerly celebrates his “three-day school break”—their mother, Brandi Pruente, a French teacher in a nearby district, faces the task of keeping them occupied and away from electronic devices as she continues her five-day workweek.

“I feel as if I’ve returned to the COVID lockdown period,” she laments.

The adoption of four-day school weeks is not isolated to Independence; it has become a trend in various parts of the U.S., primarily in rural and western regions. Districts advocate for the schedule citing operational cost-cutting and enhanced teacher recruitment, although concerns loom over the educational impact on students who have already lost valuable learning time due to the pandemic.

For parents, an added logistical and financial burden comes in the form of securing childcare for the extra weekday. While survey data suggests parental approval of the four-day schedule, support diminishes among parents with younger children.

Most weeks, Brandi Pruente relies on her eldest child to take charge, with periodic assistance from grandparents. She is not keen on availing the district’s childcare offering at $30 per day, particularly when multiplied by the number of children. “I prefer an educational setting for my children, rather than paying someone to merely watch them,” she states.

The availability of district-provided childcare varies, and in districts where numerous parents have adapted their work schedules, some childcare services have even ceased operations due to low demand. This situation is particularly troubling for parents with younger or special-needs children.

According to Paul Thompson, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University, nearly 900 out of more than 13,000 school districts nationwide have adopted a shortened school week. This marks a significant rise from 662 districts in 2019 and just over 100 in 1999.

While the educational ramifications of this trend remain unclear, some studies indicate that academic performance does not suffer if the remaining four school days are adequately extended. However, longer-term studies by organizations such as the Rand Corporation suggest that academic disparities may become noticeable over multiple years, a concerning prospect given existing academic shortfalls exacerbated by the pandemic.

Independence school district and others like it view the four-day week as an incentive to attract and retain quality educators. However, as more districts adopt this schedule, it ceases to be a unique recruiting tool, warns Missouri Commissioner of Education Margie Vandeven.

“In the event that all become four-day school districts, it ceases to serve as a recruitment strategy,” she observes.

Some communities find the four-day week beneficial, particularly in rural areas where students are scarce, and family farms require extra labor. However, as more districts follow suit, the sustainability of such schedules becomes a question worth considering.

While the four-day week has its proponents, parents and policymakers must weigh the trade-offs carefully. According to a recent study, home values and test scores in some four-day districts have shown a modest decline, suggesting that the broader community also bears the effects of such systemic changes.

Brandi Pruente concedes the advantages in terms of teacher retention but stresses, “These benefits should not come at the expense of the community or the families within the district.”

Support for The Big Big News education team is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP bears sole responsibility for all content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Four-day school weeks

What is the main subject of the article?

The main subject of the article is the rising trend of four-day school weeks in the United States and the challenges this presents for parents, especially those who work a traditional five-day week.

Who are the primary stakeholders affected by the four-day school week?

The primary stakeholders affected by the four-day school week are parents, children, educators, and school districts. Parents face challenges in childcare, while educators and school districts see it as a strategy for cost savings and teacher recruitment.

Why are four-day school weeks becoming more popular?

Four-day school weeks are becoming more popular primarily for cost-cutting reasons and as an incentive for attracting and retaining teaching staff. However, the article also notes that the effectiveness of this as a unique recruitment strategy diminishes as more districts adopt it.

What are the logistical challenges parents face due to the four-day school week?

Parents face logistical challenges primarily in the form of securing childcare for the extra weekday when children are not in school. This can add financial stress, especially for parents who work a traditional five-day week.

Is the four-day school week more prevalent in certain regions?

Yes, the four-day school week is more commonly adopted in rural and western parts of the U.S. However, it is also making inroads in non-rural districts, as evidenced by its adoption in Independence, Missouri.

What are the educational implications of a four-day school week?

The educational implications are not entirely clear. Some studies indicate that academic performance does not necessarily suffer if the remaining four school days are adequately extended. However, long-term studies suggest that academic disparities may become noticeable over multiple years.

How does a four-day school week impact teacher recruitment?

School districts view the four-day week as an attractive incentive for prospective educators. However, the effectiveness of this strategy may wane as more districts adopt a similar schedule, leveling the playing field in terms of recruitment advantages.

Does public opinion support the four-day school week?

Survey data indicates that there is general parental approval for the four-day school week, although this approval diminishes among parents with younger children. The article also mentions specific districts where a majority of parents and teachers support the schedule.

Are there any economic impacts on communities adopting a four-day school week?

The article notes a study that found modest declines in home values and test scores in some districts that have adopted a four-day week, suggesting that broader community impacts may exist.

What alternatives do parents have for childcare during the extra weekday?

Some parents adjust their work schedules, enlist the help of family members, or utilize district-provided childcare services. However, the article points out that district-provided services may not always be convenient or available.

More about Four-day school weeks

  • Four-Day School Week: Pros and Cons
  • Impact of Shorter School Weeks on Teacher Recruitment
  • The Economics of Education Policy: How Much Do Districts Really Save?
  • Long-Term Effects of Four-Day School Weeks on Academic Performance
  • Challenges in Childcare: Balancing Work and Family
  • Survey Data on Parental Views on Four-Day School Weeks
  • Teacher Retention Strategies in U.S. School Districts
  • Education Policy Trends in the United States
  • The State of Student Attendance: A Nationwide Overview
  • Educational Outcomes During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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JaneDoe September 25, 2023 - 2:52 pm

Wow, really makes you think. I get the whole cost-saving thing but what about the kids who need more time in school, not less. And parents gotta work, right?

Teach4Life September 25, 2023 - 4:00 pm

I can see how a four-day week helps in teacher recruitment but if every district does it, doesn’t that just level the field again?

CaringMom September 25, 2023 - 9:06 pm

What I want to know is, will they offer additional educational support on that extra day? My son could use it.

Mike_in_MO September 26, 2023 - 12:01 am

As a parent in Independence, MO, this hits home. I’m fortunate to have family nearby for the extra day but what about folks who don’t have that option?

RuralResident September 26, 2023 - 1:48 am

Four-day weeks work great in my community. Helps with the family farm and kids ain’t complaining.

PolicyWonk September 26, 2023 - 5:11 am

If everyone moves to a four-day week, it’s no longer a unique recruitment strategy. Needs to be thought through more carefully.

EconGuy September 26, 2023 - 5:34 am

modest savings of 0.4% to 2.5% in annual budgets may not sound like a lot but for cash-strapped districts every penny counts i guess.

CollegeStudent September 26, 2023 - 6:46 am

back in high school we dreamed about shorter weeks. But this article makes me realize it’s more complicated than just a long weekend.

ParentConcerned September 26, 2023 - 7:59 am

Struggling to keep my kids off electronics for one extra day. And the district’s daycare isn’t at every school. Makes no sense!

SarahSays September 26, 2023 - 11:55 am

I read somewhere that kids actually perform better on four-day weeks cuz they get rest. But this says academic differences show up over years. Confusing.


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