Paul T. Hill and Georgia Heyward – July 2015
Since the Great Recession, spending on K-12 education in Intermountain West states (including Idaho) has hardly increased. But schools have continued to face increasing costs, due to longevity-based teacher salary increases and (until recently) escalating energy costs. Rural schools with fixed or declining enrollment have felt these challenges acutely. In response many districts have eliminated one day of school per week and added extra time to the remaining four days. Though only one percent of school districts nationwide have adopted the four-day week, 42 of Idaho’s 115 school districts have done so.
In The Four-Day School Week in Rural Idaho Schools, ROCI task force chair Paul Hill and researcher Georgia Heyward tackle the question of what a shorter school week means for Idaho’s communities, students, and teachers. Based on interviews with leaders in over 20 Idaho districts, this paper provides insights into a little understood practice.
How the four-day week affects local spending
Though many districts adopted the four-day week in an effort to trim their budgets, Hill and Heyward found none that had seen significant savings as a result. Personnel costs are often the largest district expenses, but most employee salaries are fixed. Minimal savings could be achieved by reducing time for hourly employees, but districts were often reluctant to take this step. Contrary to expectations, some districts saw their costs rise as a result of the need for additional enrichment activities and after-school snacks during the extended day.
How student learning experiences change
Hill and Heyward found that if they took the initiative, districts could use the fifth day for enrichment—like college visits for high school students or online learning for younger students. Many parents appreciated that longer school days aligned with their work schedules, making pick-ups easier. Further, the fifth day provided time for other activities, like doctor’s appointments and fishing trips. Some districts provided homework packets to be completed on the fifth day, but Hill and Heyward found that students’ use of time was rarely monitored and packets were rarely graded. Moreover, some expressed concern that the risks of a four-day week were concentrated on disadvantaged students, whose family circumstances and/or socio-economic status make them less likely to access enrichment activities on the fifth day.
What the four-day week means for teachers
Teachers and administrators in four-day week districts said they received little training in preparation for the transition. And while some districts ran professional development programs on the fifth day, other opportunities for collaboration were often set aside for errands, appointments, or quality time in the outdoors. Though useful, this extended time off was also difficult for some teachers, who felt it was more difficult to sustain momentum after three-day weekends.
Impact and Analysis
None of the districts interviewed had rigorously assessed the effects of the four-day week on student achievement. Just one had set out criteria for reviewing its impact and returning to a five-day week if necessary. This means that the educational consequences of the four-day week, at present, are virtually unknown, though Hill and Heyward note that their interviews and research suggest positive outcomes for families and communities. However, they recommend that districts take a more measured approach to this transition, with a greater emphasis on assessment and pull-out strategies as well as greater support and guidance from the state.