Yet critics fear that the shift is actually detrimental to kids and families at a time when schools are still recovering from pandemic-induced learning loss.
Anna ISD recently announced that it’s moving to a new four-day schedule next school year. Nash House, who has a child in the North Texas district, has “mixed feelings” about the change.
On the one hand, House is happy about it because students are under a lot of stress, and she said her child and others have been bullied.
“In that aspect, I'm glad because it gives the kids an extra day at home to kind of rest and relax,” she said. On the other hand, “Instead of actually eliminating the problem and helping their teachers, I feel like they're just slapping a Band-Aid on it so that they don't have to really do any legwork to help them.”
Several other North Texas school districts have embraced the four-day school week. Even if such a move stanches a worsening teacher shortage, some education advocates warn that it may harm students in the long run.
House also wonders what this might mean for academics. Her son, who struggled with remote learning amid COVID, needs in-person, one-on-one time to effectively learn. She worries that cramming five days’ worth of academic work into four could potentially cause grades to plummet.
“I feel like academically, it is going to affect them negatively,” House said.
Some studies support the idea that shorter weeks are tough on students, especially for younger ones. One researcher found that, over the span of 15 years, four-day weeks led to test scores dropping by 4% in reading and 6% in math, according to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association.
In a February column for The Dallas Morning News, former Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and former Richardson ISD Superintendent Jeannie Stone argued that there are better ways to support educators than through a four-day school week. They noted at the time that at least 40 districts in Texas had rolled out the new schedule, and more than a dozen other districts planned to follow suit the following year.
The Texas Education Agency requires districts to provide 75,600 minutes of instruction each year, Hinojosa and Stone wrote. As long as they meet that requirement, they can technically divide up the time to create a four-day schedule with longer school days.
Another Anna ISD parent and volunteer, who asked to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, noted that fewer days may also mean that vulnerable students — like those living in poverty — have less access to resources, including mental health services that some families couldn’t otherwise afford.
“We might think about our students who might not have a safe space at home, or might not have access to nutritional food outside of school or caring adults.” – Emily Morton, NWEA research scientisttweet this
“And you also have to look at the children that have 504 plans or disabilities [Individualized Educational Programs] and things like that. It's taking the education further away from them,” the volunteer continued. “They already lost so much time during COVID, and now it's putting it even more in jeopardy.”
Some parents fear that a four-day schedule would hamper the development of social and behavioral skills. Working mothers and fathers have also cited childcare concerns, and some are worried about what kids will do on the weekday they aren't in school. Could less supervision introduce a rise in juvenile delinquency?
Four-day school weeks are also on the radar of the state Legislature.
Senate Bill 2368 passed the upper chamber in late April and would ban four-day school weeks altogether. The bill, which was referred to the House Public Education Committee last week, would force Texas districts that have made the switch to return to a five-day schedule.
Much of the research about four-day school weeks is new, having been published over the past three to five years, said Emily Morton, a research scientist at NWEA, a research and educational services organization. On average, NWEA is seeing “small- to medium-negative effects” on test scores. (Student scores in four-day school districts generally aren't growing as much as they are in regular districts.)
Still, evidence suggests that four-day districts with longer days aren’t witnessing the same bad outcomes as those with shorter ones, she said. Those in more rural areas are also seeing detrimental effects that are “small or actually not statistically different from zero.”
Morton noted that some districts cite financial concerns when launching a four-day schedule. Yet savings are often relatively minor: around 2% of the budget on average, she said.
One positive outcome is that four-day districts have seen reduced rates of bullying and fighting in schools, indicating a possible improvement in the overall school climate, Morton said.
And kids unsurprisingly love four-day weeks, she added: More than 95% of students would choose to stay on such a schedule. But it may not be good for every child, both in terms of tangible learning outcomes and less easily measurable consequences.
“Kids we might think about are students who might not have a safe space at home, or might not have access to nutritional food outside of school or caring adults,” Morton said. “Those are the kids that I really worry about on this schedule.”