A Review of the Evidence on the   Four‐Day School Week

Of course studies can be provided to argue every side of a problem but alternatives must be tried when your back is against the wall. Basically communities are buying time until either a new government is elected with a different funding formula or we decide as a society how to move forward with public education. So I know there may be some that will argue with the 4-day school week, I feel it is worth a shot to see where a community will encounter problems and adjustments made at that time. As for supervising teenagers. I don`t ever remember every parent being home to supervise my friends and me growing up. We had a blast playing games and having fun; something that is sadly lacking these days. This is where it takes a village to raise a child. Let`s step up to the challenge or have we forgotten how communities should work. Some districts are considering a 4.5-day school week and will not realize the savings from transportation costs as noted below. Click here to learn more or read an excerpt below.

 

  • 4-day week in winter months only: Closing school on the fifth days allows for additional energy savings during the most energy-intensive (coldest) months. This model has been used in some districts in New Mexico, Michigan’s Arenac Eastern School District, and Southern Columbia Area School District in Pennsylvania.

To date, potential savings on facilities and transportation continues to be one of the primary reason districts consider the switch. However, federal grants for professional development and other instructional and educational issues have also prompted districts to consider consolidation of instructional time. Federal grants for professional development led districts such as Franklin Pierce School District in Washington and MSAD 3 in Maine to seek alternative schedules to promote more time for professional development activities and common planning time for teachers (Roeth, 1985). A lengthened school day also provided increased learning blocks for instruction.

A similar intervention was funded by the federal government in Colorado in the early 1980s. Guided by the Effective Schools research literature, emphasizing greater collaboration, common planning, professional development, and measuring time-on-task performance, the Cotopaxi/Westcliffe School District used the reduction in the number of student school days and transportation savings to provide extra time for teachers to participate in professional development and common planning. Additional savings accrued because the district did not have to pay substitute teachers to cover those workshop hours (Blackadar & Nachtigal, 1986).

In the earliest applications of the four-day week, districts did see savings, though often not as much as originally hoped. For example, in Maine, a report issued by the district after one year of implementation in 1972 lists total one-year savings of $18,794 ($92,190 adjusted for inflation) for 18 no-school Fridays (the “experiment” operated a four-day week bi-weekly). The amount, nearly 1.5% of the total operating budget, reflected savings in transportation including salaries, bus depreciation, and fuel as well as in the operation of the physical plant, school lunch and teacher aides (Feaster, 2002). The district’s report estimates that utilizing a four-day week schedule every week (in contrast to bi-weekly) would yield savings closer to $35,496 (the equivalent of $174,117 in 2007; MSAD #3, 1972).

Researchers report that districts implementing a four-day week schedule have found savings on utilities, school buses, and long-term building wear and tear (Blankenship, 1984; Culbertson, 1982; Fager, 1997; Grau & Shaughnessy, 1987; Koki, 1992; Sagness & Salzman, 1993). While transportation and utilities provide obvious areas for savings, districts have found that pay for substitute teachers has also decreased because of reduced teacher absences (Nelson, 1983; Yarbrough and Gilman, 2006). Nelson’s evaluation of the four-day week in Sheridan County, WY found that the biggest difference in cost was in substitute teachers. In their evaluation of the implementation of a four-day week in Webster County, KY, which serves 1,800 students, Yarbrough and Gilman report savings amounting to two percent of the school system’s budget: approximately $200,000 per year in transportation, reduced overtime for support staff, reduced worker’s compensation, and reduced need for substitute teachers. Reeves (1999) reports four percent in similar cost savings in the $5.5 million budget in East Grand School District in East Granby, CO during the mid-1980s.

In an evaluation of Colorado’s 62 school districts using a four-day school week, Dam (2006) notes the following “reliable” trends in financial outcomes in four areas: transportation, food service, utilities, and staff. He states that transportation costs may be reduced by about 20% but notes that in order to realize that level of savings districts must severely restrict or eliminate transportation for activities or programs not conducted on regular school days. While some costs remain relatively constant, such as capital, insurance, maintenance, and administrative costs, reductions may be made in fuel, oil, salaries, and supervisory costs. Net pay for transportation employees would be reduced. In food service, Dam finds that if districts are subsidizing their food service program from the general fund, 20% of that subsidy may be saved since the program runs only four days. However, certain fixed costs within this category are not reduced. Utilities savings, he observes, may be comparable to those on a typical three-day weekend if buildings are actually closed. However, he notes that common practice is for school buildings to be open for extra activities and for the use of staff and in most cases, heat is provided. Finally, in terms of staff, the majority are either on contract or on regular work weeks. In the four-day week districts, he reports that secretaries usually work 10-hour days with offices closed on the off day, and teachers and administrators usually receive the same annual salary. Hourly employees who are tied directly to the school day, such as aides and paraprofessionals, may or may not work the same number of hours per week.

The savings, however, are not always as great as expected, particularly if personnel costs are not reduced (Chamberlain & Plucker, 2003; Richard, 2002). As a result of limited savings some districts have abandoned the practice early on (Reeves, 1999). An analysis by Michael (2003) of potential savings in Indiana demonstrates the difficulties of finding widespread savings without reducing teacher, administrator, and support staff salaries. A 20% reduction in transportation, facilities, and food services costs, he argues, amounts to a small fraction of the overall budget, the bulk of which is made up of salaries. In addition, these savings would be offset by childcare costs generated by a fifth non-school day.

Summary of Impact Findings A review of the literature on the impact of the four-day school week in the four areas of financial, achievement, other student and teacher outcomes, and stakeholder satisfaction reveals generally positive trends. Districts may not save as much as they hoped, but there are reported savings in transportation, food costs, and substitute teachers. The degree of additional cost reductions are dependent on the use of facilities during the off day and salaries for staff tied to the school calendar. The broadest conclusion that may be drawn from the limited research on the impact of the four-day week on student achievement is that it has no negative impact. There is some evidence that student and teacher absenteeism is lessened under a four-day week calendar, and there is greater opportunity for concentrated professional development. While it is sometimes difficult to persuade stakeholders to move to a four-day school week, surveys have found that students, teachers and parents are generally enthusiastic about the practice. It should be noted, however, that few of the studies cited above have been held to professional scrutiny, and the results are often reported by states and districts implementing the practice.

Challenges to Implementation

The switch to a four day week is rarely a swift transition and requires districts to research the practice, examine existing models, and weigh advantages and disadvantages. While the research literature and news reports tell the story of many districts that are satisfied with their decision to implement the four-day week, they also caution that districts must consider a range of issues in order to make an informed decision. Some of these concerns are:

Childcare: Often an initial concern with the four-day week, many districts have found that parents prefer having to find good childcare only one day a week, in contrast to some care every day. Some schools have alleviated this concern by using high school students as baby-sitters for those in need, and providing training courses to increase the quality of care provided (Blankenship, 1984; Fager, 1997). ƒ

Student Fatigue: There is often concern as to how students, particularly young students, will respond to a lengthened school day. Blankenship (1984) reports that many schools address this concern by creating school schedules that put the bulk of academic work into the earlier parts of the day. ƒ

At-risk students: Concerns arise that a three-day break creates additional difficulties for at-risk and special-needs students, though there is limited research to support the claim (Blankenship, 1984; Culbertson, 1982; Fager, 1997). ƒ

Contact hours: Despite increasing the length of the school day to accommodate a condensed school schedule, the four-day week appears to run counter to the increased emphasis on more, not less, time in school (Blankenship, 1984; Fager, 1997; Prendergast, Spradlin & Palozzi, 2007). ƒ

Shift in Costs: Savings by the school systems are offset by new costs incurred by parents for childcare and food. In addition, savings may be found by reducing hours for some of the school districts’ lowest paid, hourly workers (Chmelynski, 2002; Durr, 2003).

Legal/Legislative: State laws typically delimit required instructional time in days per year. Teacher and other labor contracts, as well as retirement and pension plans in many states and districts, are framed in terms of days instead of hours (Darden, 2008; Gains, 2008). While some states allow districts to use the four-day week by applying for a waiver of these requirements, others have sought to change their laws to reflect instructional hours instead of days. For example, in Nebraska, state law does not stipulate a timeframe, but requires a minimum number of hours (1032 hours of instruction in elementary grades and a minimum of 1080 hours of instruction in high school grades). The state department of education reports that “it is up to the school districts to construct their school days and weekly schedule to meet the aforementioned hours of instruction. A few school districts in Nebraska have met the aforementioned hours of instruction using a 4 day school week” (Correspondence with Maine Department of Education). Sample legislation from other states is included in an appendix. 

Conclusion

The four-day week is the preferred calendar of many small rural districts scattered across the country. These districts mostly boast widespread public support, no or positive impact on academic performance, and some financial savings. Savings, however, must be weighed against an increased length of the school day, childcare needs on the off day, and professional development needs to help teachers adapt to an alternative schedule. Thus, it is important for any school district considering changing to a four-day school week to weigh the costs and benefits of such a decision.

 

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