TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

Think a four-day school week is better? Think again

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With many districts tightening budgets and striving to recruit and retain high-quality teachers, the question is often raised: Should districts move to a four-day school week? Would these shorter weeks not only save money, but also be more attractive to teachers? New research in one district suggests the answers are "no" and "no." Turns out, cutting the school week in a suburban district to four days was bad news for everyone: teachers, students, and even homeowners.

Researchers Adam Nowak (West Virginia University), Frank Perrone (Indiana University), and Patrick Smith (the University of North Carolina at Charlotte) set out to answer the questionDo teachers, students, and homeowners benefit from a four-day school week? They were particularly interested in the effect of this switch on a more suburban school district rather than a rural school district,753 where this approach is more popular.

Under the new four-day schedule, school days were extended on Tuesdays through Fridays, and Mondays became part of the three-day weekend. The school district offered daycare on the off days (for a fee).

The study found that the following year, teachers were three percentage points less likely to return to their positions in the district with the four-day school week compared to retention in the prior years. Experienced teachers were five percentage points less likely to return. This finding does not necessarily mean that teachers do not value a four-day school week: it may suggest that they are unwilling to trade off the higher salaries offered by other districts for the benefit of a four-day school week, as teachers' salaries already lagged behind nearby districts, or the increase in attrition may instead indicate that teachers actually disliked the shorter weeks).

Most importantly, researchers found that after switching to a four-day school week, student performance declined by 0.2 and 0.3 standard deviations in math and reading respectively. A similar study of four-day school weeks across six states also found negative effects on student performance for third through eighth graders and a larger negative effect for Hispanic students. Interestingly, this multi-state study found that the negative effects on student learning are more pronounced in suburban districts compared to rural districts. However, recent research by the RAND Corporation found that four-day school weeks are well-received by students, parents, teachers, and school leaders in rural areas, where longer travel time to school poses a greater burden.

Traditionally, districts shifted to a four-day school week as a cost-cutting strategy. The district in this single-district study was facing budget shortfalls due to an inability to enact a property tax increase and they aimed to save one million dollars with the shorter weeks. The researchers examined the effect on housing prices to determine if the homeowners were better off–if reducing the school week to cut the school budget and keep the tax rate stable–paid off for homeowners. Ultimately, the authors found that housing prices declined two to four percent relative to surrounding school districts. This finding suggests that homeowners would have been better off financially (at least in the short term) if they had approved the property tax increase.

Evidence from this study and others suggests that in suburban districts, four-day school weeks harm student learning. For this suburban district, teacher retention and home values decreased as well. While this study is based on one suburban school district, similar districts should be cautious about moving to a four-day school week, particularly as districts are already trying to make up for learning missed during the pandemic, and some are struggling to recruit and retain teachers.