In the transition to online learning and parents’ additional responsibilities to support learning in more directly active ways, do we not consider reducing direct school-facilitated instruction to four instead of five days per week? Have we considered the pros and cons of doing so? What shall we do when the millions of children resume learning in public and private schools across the country?
Let’s see. The traditional school week is five days, averaging about 7 1/2 hours each day. Millions of K-12 children spend a minimum of seven of their daylight hours in classrooms at school engaged in learning activities. Parents will spend an average of eight hours each day working either in or outside of their homes. For students and parents who travel to and from their work settings, with children’s setting the school, these hours do not include travel time.
An increasing number of states have passed legislation giving schools the flexibility to substitute the number of instructional days for instructional hours. The standard requirement for schools is 180 days or an average range of 990-1080 hours. Schools are able to switch to a four-day week by simply increasing the length of their school day. Students are still getting the same amount of instruction in terms of minutes, just in a shorter number of days.
The most pressing question regarding this shift is how it will impact student performance. In fact, the current shift to online learning is also raising the same question. More research is needed before clear answers are available for deeper debate. The needs of every community are different and school leaders must carefully weigh any decision to move towards a four day week, seeking out community feedback as well. Nonetheless, there are still clear pros and cons on the issue.
One pro supporting a four day week is that it would save school districts money. One extra day saves money in food services, utilities, transportation and some areas of personnel. Schools are always looking to stretch their dollars to perhaps support spending in areas like parent engagement or home visiting programs. Advanced Placement courses are also extremely important offerings and unfortunately, instead of being standard in all schools, in some, these are luxuries.
A four day week can improve attendance for staff and students. This can serve to improve quality and continuity of instruction, because students will have fewer substitute teachers. That extra day off can be used for medical appointments and other needs can be addressed by teachers without interrupting schedules. Both teachers and students have an extra day off and longer weekends, enabling them to return to school more rested and prepared to engage, optimally focused and refreshed.
This also allows teachers extra time for planning and collaboration, including parent engagement and communication. Teachers often complain that their plates are full and wonder how to fit in time to collaborate with and engage parents and caregivers. That extra day can offer opportunities to do so outside of the school day.
The shift can be a great recruiting tool for attracting and hiring new teachers. Many teachers are certainly happy to make that shift. Students and families can have improved quality time together, and increased time for studying and homework completion. Families can enjoy time to ge to museums, visit grandparents with children, and we all know ho that is often like pulling teeth.
There is evidence against shifting to a four day school week. Moving to a four day week means lengthening the school day. That means longer hours either in the classroom or in front of a screen for virtual learning. Just as we are contemplating beginning the school day later, an important benefit for adolescents, many schools would have to being earlier and/or lengthen the duration of each day.
Moving to a four day week at school would also shift a financial burden onto parents. We must consider childcare for working parents. The younger the child, the more it may cost parents. There is also an absence of the meals normally provided by the school. Even if it is only one day each week, this becomes another parental concern.