The Four-Day School Week: Pros and Cons

There’s a growing trend across the United States where students and teachers have a four-day school week instead of the traditional five-day week. In some cases, students use Monday for a period of independent learning while teachers use the day for grading and planning. In other cases, students enjoy Fridays off and work on their homework ahead of the weekend.

This four-day trend can be found in states like Texas, Missouri, Ohio, and Florida. Proponents highlight the benefits to teachers and school budgets while detractors raise concerns about the amount of time away from the classroom.

Let’s take a look at the application of a four-day school week to see how it helps educators, students and administrators better achieve learning goals.

The Four-Day School Week Started as a Money-Saving Strategy

The main premise behind the four-day school week has nothing to do with teacher burnout or giving students more time to themselves. The goal of these policies is to save money by cutting back on the amount of resources needed on that fifth day.

“Proponents say the schedule reduces overhead when you eliminate a full day of bus transportation, food service, and maintenance and operations,” writes the team at LINQ, a K-12 business platform. They give the example of Duval County School District in Jacksonville, Florida. When it switched to the four-day school week, it saved $7 million per year (0.7% of the budget).

Other districts have seen similar dividends. Since 2010, the Lathrop School District in Missouri has taken off Mondays. Its 900 students attend school longer throughout the rest of the week, and the district saves $125,000 per year (1.25% of its annual budget).

“[Monday] is kind of the new Sunday,” says Chris Fine, Lathrop superintendent of schools. “Cooks, custodians, bus drivers, even secretaries, they all work 32-hour weeks.”

Along with reducing direct costs (like the need for bus drivers) there are also opportunities for indirect savings as well. For example, the need for substitute teachers is reduced because teachers can build planned absences around their days off. An educator can schedule a dentist appointment for specific days instead of needing to pay a substitute teacher while they are away from the classroom.

“While substitutes will always be needed in the event of sick time or unforeseen emergencies, teachers having a better work-life balance helps lessen the need for substitute teachers,” writes Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur at

Students raising their hands in class, with teacher at the front; Four-Day School Week concept

The Four-Day School Week Has Become a Recruitment Tool

Although many districts initially adopted the four-day school week to save money, they quickly noticed the positive effect these policies had on teacher recruitment and retention.

“Districts started using the four-day week for financial savings,” says Jon Turner, an associate professor at Missouri State University. “But the reasons for transitioning have changed over the past few years.” Turner says that less than half of Missouri educators remain in the field after the first five years of teaching. He says the transition to a four-day workweek can help “…schools attract and retain teachers.”

There are several examples of teachers opting to work in districts that use these four-day models. The Independence School District in Missouri recently kicked off its four-day school week this year. The shorter week has been a boon for teacher recruitment, as educators are eager to have an entire day to catch up on lesson plans and grading, freeing up other parts of the week for a greater work-life balance.

“The number of teaching applications that we’ve received has gone up more than four-fold,” says Dr. Dale Herl, superintendent of the district.

The North College Hill City School District in Ohio also implemented a four-day school week, where Monday was used as a period for students to do self-directed learning from home. Eugene Blalock, the district superintendent, has seen positive results.

“Teachers are leaving the profession at alarming rates and the idea of being able to have some quality time dedicated to just get some collaboration, some planning, is something that is intriguing to the teachers, and it actually has excited and re-ignited my teachers.”

School districts that implement these policies have noticed lower teacher turnover rates and have even seen some teachers come out of retirement because they enjoy having an extra day to catch up on their work.

Smiling teacher sitting with young students; Four-Day School Week concept

District Leaders Are Willing to Concede Quantity for Quality

The main concern about the four-day school week is that students lose an entire day of learning time. Parents and legislatures have voiced concerns about students having fewer minutes to learn an already packed curriculum. However, districts that have been successful with the four-day transition say the lost time is worth it if schools are fully staffed (reducing overcrowded classrooms) and the teachers are high quality.

“I’ve been researching student achievement for a long, long time. I’ve been studying this very closely, and I know that the teacher in the classroom is key to student success,” says Dr. Gregg Klinginsmith, superintendent of Warren County R-III School District near St. Louis, Missouri. “So whatever we can do to keep and maintain quality teachers in our school district is going to have a positive effect on our community.”

Klinginsmith notes that the maximum he can offer teachers is $38,000 plus benefits annually and base teacher pay has not changed in six years. This makes recruitment challenging when teachers can earn $20,000 more a year just by teaching in the wealthier districts that are only 10 miles away. “We can’t offer teachers more money, but we can offer them time,” he says.

Dr. John Kuhn is the superintendent of Mineral Wells Independent School District near Fort Worth, Texas. His district switched to four-day weeks a year ago because of staffing issues. Kuhn found that teachers were willing to leave other districts and come to his because the Monday through Thursday learning environment was more appealing.

“We were hopeful and very convinced that the number of minutes a kid sits in a chair or classroom isn’t the driving factor for quality of education,” Kuhn said. “We feel like the quality of the teacher is the most impactful thing for a student’s education.”

Other district leaders have also been surprised by the types of teachers they recruit. As educators reach a state of burnout after multiple years of teaching, they start to look for alternative classroom scheduling. The four-day school week is often seen as the best option for teachers who want to stay in education but want a less stressful environment.

“The teachers we hired, to our surprise, were the teachers in that middle range of experience level, which we weren’t even expecting,” says Dr. Janie Sims, superintendent at Athens Independent School District outside of Dallas, Texas. “That was a huge bonus. The average tenure of the teachers we hired was 10 to 11 years, which is outstanding.”

Many of the teachers that Sims had previously hired were brand new. While they were excited to teach, they needed more onboarding and coaching, which took away time and resources from more experienced educators. The influx of middle-experienced teachers can help grow the district’s knowledge base while also increasing the potential longevity of educators in the area.

The Four-Day Week Has Ripple Effects on Schools

The four-day school week isn’t just an issue related to teacher recruitment, school budgets and test scores. A massive change like this will have several ripple effects across each education ecosystem.

For example, Dr. Emily Morton, a researcher at the American Institutes for Research, found that four-day school weeks “decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 39% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 31%.” Morton did not report on the cause of the decrease.

Next, Christopher Adams, reporting for KXAN in Texas shared a presentation by China Spring Independent School District outside of Waco. The presentation argued that the shorter school week might bring attendance up to pre-COVID levels, which is currently 1.5 percentage points lower than before the pandemic.

This also has key benefits: Funding for Texas school districts is currently tied to attendance. The presentation estimated that the four-day school week policy could lead to $300,000 in additional funding to China Spring ISD schools due to increased attendance.

In a third example, the four-day school week isn’t just causing a teacher migration. Parents and students are watching these learning trends and some of those families are moving to the districts they think are making the best choices.

“We were losing kids to other districts,” says Pat Evans, school board president of Mormon Trail Community School District in Iowa. This caused the district to consider the four-day school week in order to stay competitive and retain students — which also means retaining funding.

Close-up of student with laptop, sitting at desk, listening intently; Four-Day School Week concept

Drawbacks to the Four-Day School Week

While the number of schools switching to the four-day week continues to grow, not everyone is on board with this option.

On the other side of the Dallas-Fort Worth area is the Mesquite Independent School District, where superintendent Angel Rivera decided against pursuing a four-day school week. Rivera was persuaded against the change by research stating that the four-day school week could harm vulnerable students — especially rural and Hispanic learners.

“I took it off the table as the administration recommendation,” says Rivera. “I’m not going to experiment on kids.”

There are also concerns about what students do when they aren’t in school. There are also concerns about older kids who could get into trouble without adult supervision or a school to go to. Many parents still have to work on that fifth day, which means they need to find childcare for a single day each week.

Some districts have responded by offering childcare on the fifth day, while other communities have noticed that older students are stepping up — and embracing their entrepreneurial spirits.

“It ends up being a day that there are several babysitters around, because high school students don’t have class,” says Jack Moles, executive director of the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association. This comment was part of a Nebraska Public Media report on Weeping Water Public Schools, which recently transitioned to a four-day school week.

Unfortunately, even if some districts wanted to switch to the four-day week, they might not be able to. Some states have laws against these policies while others have strict requirements for the number of educational minutes each student receives annually.

“The four-day week isn’t feasible for most schools in the state,” says education reporter Diana Lambert at EdSource. “California’s Education Code requires schools to hold classes five days a week or have their funding reduced.”

While California state legislatures have granted exemptions in the past to schools that can show they are meeting their instructional minutes, some districts never implemented their approved plans while others reverted back to the five-day week.

For many school districts, the four-day school week is still considered an experiment. While legislatures want to use metrics like test scores to see how this change affects students, there are so many other factors (like funding, teachers, and the wealth of local communities) that it is hard to isolate the effects of one single change.

However, many district leaders have experienced enough positive benefits in financial savings and teacher recruitment that they are pleased with the results. This option might not be for everyone, but it seems to work for more and more schools each year.

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