Four or five day school week: which is best?

In the education world, the debate over whether four- or five-day school weeks are the better option for students is raging in many districts across the country, including those in Texas.

The four-day school week has become popular among smaller, rural districts in the Lone Star State since lawmakers passed HB 2610 in 2015, making the option possible. This legislation replaced language requiring 180 days of instruction per school year at districts and charter schools with new language requiring them to work a minimum of 75,600 minutes.

As previously reported in The Dallas ExpressDozens of school systems in Texas, such as Anna ISD, Runge ISD, Crosby ISD and Alto ISD, are testing the alternative schedule to attract high-quality teachers and reduce burnout.

After moving to the four-day school week, Anna ISD and Mineral Wells ISD have seen positive impacts on their campuses.

“We find that teachers appreciate having an extra day for planning, professional development or personal responsibilities, which can contribute to job satisfaction and morale,” said Karen Walker, director of communications at Anna ISD. The Dallas Express. “Our students benefit from having more time for extracurricular activities, hobbies and family time, allowing them to balance academic and personal commitments.”

Mineral Wells ISD, which made the switch in 2022, has reported improvements in hiring and STAAR testing results. Although he admitted some initial hesitation, the district’s superintendent, John Kuhn, told WFAA that it ultimately paid off.

“We were hopeful and very confident that the number of minutes a child spends in a chair or classroom is not the driving factor in the quality of education,” Kuhn said. “We believe that teacher quality has the greatest impact on a student’s education.”

Kuhn also noted how the vast majority of teachers, parents and students surveyed responded positively to the shift to four-day school weeks.

The apparent success has led other district leaders, including Joshua ISD, Hillsboro ISD and Sanger ISD, to sign off on the four-day school week for the 2024-2025 school year. Decatur ISD will join them a year later after the school board rejected the rollout of the new class schedule this coming school year.

Nationally, there has been an increase in adapting the four-day schedule, said Dr. Paul Thompson, associate professor of economics at Oregon State University. Speaking to SciLine last year, Thompson estimated that more than 2,100 schools in 26 states had switched to four-day weeks, representing a massive 900% increase over the past two decades.

Thompson, whose research focuses on the effects of four-day school weeks, financial intervention systems and changes in local and state funding for primary and secondary education, noted that flexibility was one of the biggest benefits of a four-day school week.

“Providing teachers with flexibility in lesson planning and other matters; providing cost flexibility for school districts,” he said.

Meanwhile, students can spend more time with extracurricular activities, internships, jobs and their families, and parents can more easily schedule appointments for their children. This suggests that student absenteeism – a key issue in the wake of lockdowns during the pandemic – could also be curbed by a more flexible schedule.

The four-day school week seemed to have a positive impact on another crucial problem in education: student misbehavior in the classroom. A study by the Center for Education Policy Analysis shows that the number of bullying incidents has decreased by 31% and the number of anti-bullying incidents has decreased by 27%.

Advocates have also suggested that the four-day school week helps districts recruit and retain better quality teachers. A survey conducted by the EdWeek Research Center last December found that a reduced schedule would positively impact the decision to accept a job offer for approximately 75% of respondents, including teachers, principals and administrators.

In addition to boosting teacher morale and improving work-life balance, the class schedule shift could save districts significant money on transportation, food and energy.

Although the four-day school week has been touted as having several advantages, some have also suggested several disadvantages to the schedule.

Research has suggested that fewer classroom hours can negatively impact student achievement, especially in non-rural areas.

“What we’ve noticed is that schools with lower school hours seem to be the four-day school weeks where most of these detrimental performance effects are present,” Thompson said, per SciLine. He noted that these negative effects hit elementary and middle school students the hardest.

Another concern regarding the four-day school week comes from parents who may have difficulty finding childcare due to their work schedules. The effects of this can be manifold, with research showing that the reduced schedule is correlated with poorer children having less access to nutritious meals and an increase in youth crime.

“We’ve seen some evidence of this here in Oregon, showing that students are getting less breakfast; they drink more sugary drinks, which are not good for their diet, and are more likely to use drugs,” said Thompson.

“These are things that I think local communities need to be aware of – parents need to be aware of, school officials need to be aware of – because it’s not just performance that matters here,” he added.