Monolingual Hispanic students raise their hands to answer a question during a class taught in Spanish at Birdwell Elementary School in Tyler, Texas.

Monolingual Hispanic students raise their hands to answer a question during a class taught in Spanish at Birdwell Elementary School in Tyler, Texas.

More and more school districts across the U.S. are embracing the four-day school week.

Right now, nearly 560 districts in 25 states have adopted the change, with most implementing a Monday-Thursday schedule. The trend is especially popular in rural areas.

Proponents say the move will help schools cut costs and bolster teacher recruitment. But there’s concern that a four-day school week is tough on low-income families, who rely on the meals and childcare embedded in a school day.

One state that’s leading the trend of four-day school weeks is Colorado. One of its major districts, 27J, made the switch this academic year.

Reporter Stephanie Daniel of Across America partner station KUNC in Greeley, Colorado, has been following this issue. Here’s part of her piece from the beginning of the school year:

“We had to think out of the box,” said Tracy Rudnick, public information officer and head of the communications department for 27J schools.

27J is one of the lowest funded districts in the Denver metro area. But Rudnick said money was not the main reason for the change to a four-day week.

“We were looking at new and creative ways to attract and retain teachers,” said Rudnick.

Traditionally 27J has been a stepping stone for educators. They start their career there, then move onto another district that pays more.

Rudnick said the move to a shorter work week has already boosted recruitment. A couple months after the change was announced, the district hosted a career fair and 500 teachers — experienced and prospective — attended.

That was more than double from the year before.

The district was able to fill more positions and hire seasoned educators, a rarity for them.

“It was a nice balance to hire new teachers and professionals that have been in the system for many years and bring that experience to the district,” said Rudnick. “So, that’s valuable to us as well.”

The district is happy with the new schedule, according to Rudnick, and plans to reevaluate the program in three years.

We talk about the true cost of cutting class around the country.

This show was produced by Across America producer James Morrison. Text by Kathryn Fink.

1A Across America is funded through a grant from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 that is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting.

Guests

  • Paul Hill Founder, Center on Reinventing Education; research professor, University of Washington Bothell; @CRPE_UW
  • David Blackburn Superintendent, Salida School District
  • Stephanie Daniel Education reporter, KUNC; @stephd323

Here's a map of four-day school week implementation across the U.S.

Q&A with Salida School District superintendent David Blackburn

More than 50% of Colorado school districts have adopted a four-day school week. In the Salida School District in rural central Colorado, about 1,300 students have been on a four-day schedule since 2011. 1A Across America producer James Morrison spoke with David Blackburn, the superintendent of Salida, about how this works, what parents think of it and whether it impacts student performance.

Q: Why did your district adopt a four-day school week?

A: We adopted it for funding reasons stemming from the recession. While it’s not right for every district, our community embraced it. We’ve had a lot of success both academically and community wide.

Q: How have parents adapted to the four-day week?

A: Many have embraced it. It put the cultural onus back on families to raise and educate their children, and placed the schools back in a supportive role. Our more affluent families can afford to take days off and leverage that time with their kids. That leaves more school resources for less-affluent students. We use the “extra” day now to target students who need extra attention with extra programming. That extra programming is a community wide effort, not just a school effort.

Q: Has it impacted student performance?

A: We’ve seen a lot of improvement in test scores. When we started the four-day week in 2011, we were in the middle-of-the-pack (in student achievement scores). Since then, we’ve sustained being one of the top school districts in the state.

Q: How does a shorter week help achievement?   

A: The implementation process we went through changed the mindset of teachers. Teachers felt like they had one less day, even though the minutes were the same. The result was greater focus in lessons. Every minute became precious. It isn’t how many minutes you go to school that matters; it is how many minutes the students are engaged in learning. Our engagement went up.

We got more quality hours even though we had the same number of minutes as a five-day week. Some students then used their day off for college prep courses. Student athletes who travel on Fridays missed less school.

Another huge advantage has been the ability to attract and retain quality teachers to the Colorado mountains. Teachers like it if they can enjoy an extra powder day of skiing. We can’t compete with urban salaries, but we can offer a better way of life.

Q: Would you go back to a five-day week?

A: No. The community wouldn’t support us going back to a five-day week. Even if we had more funding, I’d recommend keeping the four-day schedule and using the fifth day for student development programs. We’re currently developing a new set of programs with a local community college to offer trade certifications for all students on that “extra” day.

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