The Four-Day School Week: Are the Pros Worth the Cons? (2024)

The past two decades have seen an explosion in the adoption of the four-day school week. Though the policy has been documented as early as the 1930s, only 257 schools in the country had adopted it by 1999. Yet by 2019, over 1,600 schools were on a four-day schedule. There are no signs that the pace is slowing.

Missouri is one of the newest states to see exponential growth in the adoption of this policy. In 2009, no district in the state had a four-day school week; but, as of the 2022–23 school year, about 25 percent are now on that schedule. Generally, most of the schools and districts adopting the policy are rural and west of the Mississippi River.

Against this growing trend, however, there is increasing evidence that, by and large, a four-day school week causes student achievement to suffer. To study the policy's effects, we looked at a variety of outcomes in six states—Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota—five of which had the student achievement data we needed for the study. We compared achievement in English and math in grades 3 through 8 in schools that adopted the four-day school week against that of their five-day-a-week peers. We found that students in four-day school week districts fell behind a little every year. Though these changes were small, they accumulated. We estimate that after eight years, the damage to student achievement will about equal that caused, according to some estimates, by the pandemic. The potential long-term learning deficit in student achievement from the four-day school week is, our findings suggest, not trivial.

Why, then, is the policy so popular? For one thing, district leaders cannot see the harm. We found that school leaders, teachers, and parents in districts with a four-day week reported that test scores were equal to, or even better than, results from before the policy was adopted. Our analysis confirmed that, by and large, exam results remained the same or went up year to year, even after the shorter week was adopted. But if school leaders were able to see the bigger picture of what was happening outside their district, they would realize that students in five-day-a-week schools were progressing faster. The four-day students were actually, comparatively, falling behind. In other words, their performance would likely have grown faster if their district had never adopted the four-day school week.

The ideas behind the policy are simple and appealing. A shorter week makes it easier to staff schools, a particularly challenging task for rural schools, due to their geographic isolation and lower salaries. Proponents of the four-day week also say a shorter workweek could get teachers to reconsider leaving their job, or bring retirees back into the classroom. It could reduce burnout and improve job satisfaction, and it could attract teachers from neighboring five-day school week districts, even if pay is lower in the four-day district. For districts facing budget shortfalls, the shorter week could save money on, for example, buses, school lunches, substitute teachers, and hourly employees, and spend it to preserve staffing levels or hire specialized staff such as reading coaches.

Indeed, in the 12 rural school districts we visited, school administrators, teachers, students, and parents reported that the shorter week did indeed improve school morale. Teachers reported feeling less burned out and missing fewer instructional days due to illness or exhaustion. And while they spent time working on school tasks like grading and lesson planning over the weekend, they had more time to prepare for the coming week.

In a few schools, teachers also reported delaying retirement due to the shorter work week. Some even told us they were now willing to drive longer distances, and accept reduced wages, to work in a school that had adopted a four-day week. Students and parents were, by and large, also very satisfied with the shorter week. It allowed teachers, students, and parents time to recover from the general stresses of school (e.g., early start times, homework, athletics) and spend more time at home with their families or engage in outside activities.

But even these perceived benefits have shortcomings. Take, for example, the recruiting advantage a four-day school week gives a district. This works only if neighboring districts still have five-day weeks, and even then, it is likely a short-term gain. If a district with lower pay but a four-day week successfully poaches teachers from a district nearby, what's to stop those same districts from adopting the same policy and winning its teachers back? Indeed, the strongest predictor of a district adopting a four-day school week is proximity to a district that already has one. Teachers have a strong preference for working close to home, so when all surrounding districts operate on the same schedule, the four-day week ceases to be an attractive perk in making long-term employment decisions.

A better approach to improving outcomes for both students and teachers would be to address the root cause of the challenges schools and districts face.

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More generally, the four-day school week is being used to sidestep deeper underlying issues that are enduring, complicated, and difficult to fix. For example, in our study, we found that the most common reason districts adopted a four-day week was to reduce costs on the expenses named above. Rural schools in particular have tighter budgets than urban ones because transportation costs more and rural areas tend to be poorer, leading to lower local school funding levels. Overhead costs are also higher because rural schools serve fewer children, and continued reductions in state funding make these districts less able to sustain the costs of running a school. Lastly, while the four-day week might temporarily attract talent, it does not address the longer-term teacher shortages caused by factors such as high stress and relatively low pay that is not keeping up with inflation or other college-educated or advanced degree professions.

A better approach to improving outcomes for both students and teachers would be to address the root cause of the challenges schools and districts face, including insufficient and inequitable funding and teacher and student stress. Though the four-day school week can, at first, seem like an appealing solution to some of the problems that beset schools across the United States, in the long run the benefits may not outweigh the drawbacks—both in slowing learning, and by papering over the deeper issues schools and teachers face.

Christopher Doss and Andrea Phillips are policy researchers specializing in education at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. Rebecca Kilburn is a research professor at the Prevention Research Center at the University of New Mexico, and she uses data and analysis to inform policies to improve the well-being of children and families.

This commentary originally appeared on The 74 on April 4, 2023. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.

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The Four-Day School Week: Are the Pros Worth the Cons? (2024)


Why 5 days of school is better than 4? ›

Even if they might not be able to fully articulate their emotions, children share our sentiments towards inconsistency. Coming to school five days per week provides the best consistency and routine for children, which we believe is fundamental to strong development at this early, formative age.

Do teachers like four day school week? ›

Nearly 95 percent of educators in a recent EdWeek Research Center survey said their districts still have a traditional, five day schedule. Still, as more districts adopt the four-day model, community members, teachers, principals, and district leaders are becoming increasingly supportive, according to research.

Does a 4 day school week improve mental health? ›

While 4-day did make an impact on average years of experience among teachers, it also made a big impact elsewhere. Parents repeatedly emphasize its effect on childrens' mental health and overall well-being. Many Life School students and parents report reduced feelings of stress and burnout.

What are cons of 4 day school weeks? ›

One study found that the four-day week may hurt reading scores more than math scores. A large study released last year found that the shorter schedule held back student achievement in small-town and suburban districts but had little or no effect in rural districts.

How effective are 4 day school weeks? ›

In a 2021 analysis, Thompson estimates schools save 1% to 2% by shortening the school week by a day. The impact of the condensed schedule differs depending on a range of factors, including the number of hours schools operate and how they structure their daily schedules.

Why 4 days of school is good? ›

Proponents of a four-day school week argue that it offers several benefits, including cost savings, improved student attendance and increased teacher morale. By reducing the number of school days, schools can save money on transportation, food and energy costs.

Does 4 day school week decrease bullying? ›

Results indicate that four-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 31% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 27%, but have no detectable effect on other incident types, ACT scores, or attendance.

How does a 4 day school week affect grades? ›

They found no significant differences in academic achievement between districts that used five-day schedules and those that used four-day schedules, as long as the districts with shorter weeks maintained a high or medium amount of instructional time for students.

How many states have 4 day weeks? ›

As of 2019, over 650 districts across 24 states are using this schedule — a 600% increase since 1999. The schedule is particularly popular in rural Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. As this option grows in popularity, state leaders are eager to learn about the impacts on students and schools.

Does Florida have 4 day school week? ›

At least one high school in Broward has successfully operated on a four-day school week calendar for nearly 30 years. Pompano Beach High School students attend classes for 8½ hours each day as opposed to the seven hours and 20 minutes that Palm Beach County high school students are in class.

Why should school be 5 days a week? ›

However, the five day work and school week creates more consistency by providing a routine. The five day school week provides greater consistency for education as students can see their teachers and receive instruction for the majority of the week and the weekend bridges a break in between instruction.

Is Georgia getting 4 day school week? ›

The Board of Education approved a 4-day school calendar beginning July 1, 2022.

How long school days affect mental health? ›

Finally, long school hours can also lead to a feeling of isolation and loneliness for students. With such long hours, it can be difficult for students to make friends and socialize. This can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

How does a four day work week affect mental health? ›

Results showed people in the programme had higher self-perceived health status, reduced levels of stress, were less tired and felt happier and more personally satisfied.

Why should schools have 4 day weeks? ›

A four-day school week has gained attention as a potential solution to improve student well-being and academic performance. By reducing the traditional five-day school week to four days, students are granted an extra day of relaxation, allowing them to recharge and be more focused during their time in school.

Should school days be shorter pros? ›

One of the arguments in favor of shorter school days is that they could increase the efficiency and effectiveness of instructional time, as teachers and students would be more focused and motivated during the limited hours of class. It could also reduce the associated cost of childcare.


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