March 9th, 2010
02:50 PM ET

Will a four-day school week undermine learning?

Drastic cuts in state budgets are forcing many states to consider drastic measures in education, including closing schools, getting rid of significant numbers of teachers and administrators, and cutting out extracurricular activities.  Another contentious idea being kicked around in many school districts is scaling back to a four-day school week, and adding an extra hour or so to the remaining days.

The head of a Minnesota district that's switching to four-day weeks next year says she's confident it will save money without affecting learning, and might even have some positive effects, such as fewer absences. Superintendent Deb Henton told CNN's Campbell Brown a four-day week has a "neutral" effect on academic achievement: "It's neither a positive gain, nor a negative gain." And she said it would prevent bigger problems, such as additional cost cuts and larger class sizes.

Fact Check:  Can a four-day school-week save money without undermining learning?

– The four-day school-week was used as far back as the 1930s in South Dakota. It was adopted by districts in New Mexico when the 1970s energy crisis hit, and the number of districts across the country switching to four days has gradually increased with each economic crisis, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Education Commission of the States. Currently, out of 15,000 districts nationwide, the ECS estimates 120 districts in 17 states use a four-day week. They are typically small, rural districts, mainly west of the Mississippi River.

– North Branch, Minnesota, school district superintendent Deb Henton says her district has cut more than $10 million out of its budget since 2003-2004, and without the four-day week, "we would have to look at additional cuts and adding more students onto teachers who already experience a very high class size in their classroom on a daily basis. For example, some of my high school teachers see 215 students a day."

– "We have researched the four-day week for two years," Henton told CNN. She said the studies they looked at "said that the academic achievement under a four-day week is neutral. It's neither positive gain, nor a negative gain. So, what we have found is there's a great increase in staff and student attendance." She said the longer hours offset the reduced number of days, and overall instructional time over the course of the year won't change.

– ECS Chief of Staff Kathy Christie tells CNN that any studies suggesting a four-day week has no significant impact on academics are purely "anecdotal" and "there really is no strong research on how it affects student achievements."

– The clear benefits of a four-day week cited by the ECS and other education research and policy groups include: reduced cost for transportation, heating and cooling; fewer long commutes for students; longer instructional blocks for students; and increased time for academic support and extracurricular activities.

– Drawbacks listed by the ECS and others: Parents who work must find additional child care one day a week; younger students may struggle with longer school days; districts may not save as much as anticipated if school buildings stay open for the fifth day for nonacademic activities.

Bottom Line:

While a four-day school week can certainly help a cash-strapped school district's bottom line, research on how it affects student achievement is limited. Despite uncertainty about the academic impact, districts adopting four-day weeks as a last resort may still be benefiting students by heading off other problems such as larger class sizes or closing schools near their homes.

Got something that needs checking? E-mail us at factcheck@cnn.com.

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  1. Voxhumana

    The idea of a four day school week is ludicrous. If anything, students should be going to school during the summer. Most countries, outside of the USA, send their kids to school during the summer months, with maybe a three-four week break several times a year, compared to the almost three month break most in the USA receive.

    Parents cannot afford to place children in summer camps and after/before school care while the school system does less and less. Yes, classroom sizes are large, but perhaps another model, or longer hours for teachers are in order. Their yearly salary is well above the average company employee, when compared by hours to corporate employees, many of whom, on salary, work more than 40 hours with two weeks of vacation a year.

    How about the idea of teacher led training in classrooms and monitored study hall with homework help for part of the day. More homework could be given, which could be done in school with monitored sessions of students engaged in reading and worksheet completion. That way, valuable classroom instruction could be shared between two classrooms of students.

    Four day weeks, NO WAY.

    March 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Nikki

    Voxhumana –

    I agree that four day weeks is a bad idea, but I just had to say that my father, who teaches kindergarten, is working at school about 60 hours per week. During his long "summer break" he has to finish student report cards, then prepare his classroom for deep cleaning, then attend (and pay for!) continuing-ed classes to keep his license current. Then he has a bit of a break before having to go back to prepare his classroom for the next year and then attend teacher conferences at the school before the kids come back. This takes tons of time, even though myself and other family members are often there to help in the classroom, especially over the summer.

    As an adult child of a teacher I can tell you that the prevailing idea that teachers are only in school as long as the kids are is completely false. They work just as many, if not more, hours than a salaried employee elsewhere, and have one of the most important jobs out there! Adding to their hours is not the way to go. If they are overworked and their job performance goes down, it's the kids who suffer.

    I don't know what the solution is, but I must stick up for teachers.

    March 9, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Matt Boone, CPA

    Hey I have an idea, lets stop allowing the Teacher's Unions to control the school system by allowing students to use their annual allocation of public school funds at private schools if they so choose.

    March 9, 2010 at 5:18 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Rick

    To voxhumana,
    The amount of work teachers do outside of the school day is far more than any of the corporate employees you refer to. The minute to minute work of a teacher is far more intense than any corporate job. Third, the level of education most districts require is far greater than any corporate job that can be had with one degree. Do you really want your child attending a school where a teacher is expected to do more work for less money?

    I don't know if 4 days a week will work academically or financially, but I do know that asking teachers to work more hours without any compensation would only end up making their teaching, and the learning of their students suffer.

    March 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Yancy

    Four days a week is unfair to society and send the wrong message to our kids. This is a drastic decision that must not be taken lightly.

    The decision makers need to take a hard, honest and educated look at what kind of message is being sent to the kids. Education is key to a better living, develops mature and responsible men and women in society and broadens the scope of their abilities. It seems counter-productive to reduce the school days to four instead of the five. For the most part, most of the decision makers were privileged to attend school five days a week.

    Another contentious idea to kick around is online and home schooling on the fifth day with mandatory assignments.

    March 9, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tim

    While two parent, single income families may not feel like it is a big deal. They will when they go to sell their house and the only people in the market are other families like them. If the other families have a choice they will choose to live elsewhere, Eventually, that will lower the values of the property. Which will in turn lower property tax revenue.

    Eventually, turning a neighborhood into an undesired area to live, will impact student performance.

    I think it will take 5-6 years to realize how much these schools have hurt their students.

    I think it is a irresponsible, short term, solution. And I think once a school district has committed to a 4-day week, there is no turning back. That town will never recover.

    March 9, 2010 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. lisa

    As a teaccher myself and a parent of 5 children I am in favor of a 4 day week. It allows the districts to save money in so many areas...transportation, utilities just to name a few and to keep class sizes down so that a true education can be attained. Student absenteeism is terrible at school and student don't want to be there anyway most of the time. They feel forced and that they have no time on their own. If they had a 4 day a week they would probably not complain abiout boredom nor would they resist learning. If class sizes go up we are merely babysitting and dealing with discipline areas which is not benefitting society in the long run and cheating our students of quality. Remember it is not quantity but quality we are aiming for!!!
    Also a 4 day week allows students to be more involved in extracurricular activities without interfereing with academics. Students will have more time to explore the arts, museums, sports, dances, or be mentored by their parents. Yes! Parents can be parents again and take part in their child's life once more. Children will begin collections, make visits to the library and learn how to do chores, cook and care for the elders. Our society is so rushed by our 5 day a week we are stressed and passing this stress on to our children. This may help with the obesity problem as children will have more time outdoors to be active.

    March 9, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  8. WF

    Some of you might want to do some research before you start throwing stones. For you teacher haters out there, why are not one? You had the same opportunity to become one. Maybe you just missed the boat.

    March 10, 2010 at 3:59 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Lil

    I am a teacher in NY state. I’ve read the comments back and forth here and many of you have some good points whether you believe in a 4 day week or keeping a 5 day week. Being in the midst of our educational system, the cuts school districts are receiving now is just the beginning. Our district last year already started deleting positions and again, for the upcoming school year, will be deleting positions. They also informed us that it will be very probable that the 2011-2012 we will be looking at additional staff cuts. The counties and states surrounding us are also looking at large cuts in staffing. What does this do? This increases class size significantly and this is where learning deteriorates. We already closed one of our school buildings 3 years ago. We are left with no school monitors in the Middle and High School Level and many aids were let go in the intermediate level.

    I believe that cutting back to a four day school week if funding continues to get cut for school districts may be the best alternative. Currently an average school day instructional time is roughly around 6 hours for the upper grades and less for the lower grades. If you kept the same hours allotted in a 5 day week and put it into a four day week, there would be more instruction. More teachers say the same thing. You cannot get enough done in one school day, one class period, etc. In a four day school week there could be an extra 90 minutes of instructional time each day. Yes it is a longer day, but it still adds up to being less than 8 hours a day.
    There are many ways to create a four day school week, whether it is making up the hours in the week or adding days to the calendar. The only problem with extending the calendar at this time with our economy is that most Northern schools do not have air conditioning. I can tell you that working in a school with no air conditioning is tough in June, let alone July or August. As the temperature goes up in the buildings, the kids get more lethargic, hot, and cranky.

    As far as teachers go, I don’t know any teachers who put in the same hours as our students. We all put in a lot more and that includes working during the summer and getting ready for the upcoming school year. In NY state you must have a masters. The amount of money spent on our education compared to our salaries is low when you compare it to other jobs requiring the amount of education and training that teachers must have. Most teachers will tell you they don’t teach for the money, but they do it for the kids and how it makes them feel when they see our students successes.

    We are all in a financial crunch right now. Most of use have seen our home values decrease while our taxes have gone up significantly. We do need to explore options because unfortunately education is and will continue to take a huge hit financially and we will all suffer, especially our children.

    March 11, 2010 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jason Barlow

    i think 4 days a week is a very bad idea. i was a juvenile delinquent and i only went to school 4 days a week and it is hurting me now. i know i am a very bright and able learner but my teenage angst got in the way. my school wasn't very small but there are two other high schools in my town not counting the Boces school. this to me seems very insufficient. i used to cut my classes in division ave in Levittown, NY to go to class with my friends at McArthur.(walking distance away) my point is i felt left out in my high school from my peers. the classes were too small and it was hard to make friends in my actual school. the ones i did make in my honors classes opted to drop out as did i. if you cut the school week to 4 days a week you will get more students like me. uninterested and cut off. i think we need to follow the chinese and reduce summer vacation to a month or so and make the week longer. make the classes larger and consolidate the schools so they replicate what the real world is like. in the real world no one cares who is "left behind" its up to you to better your life. there is also more races, cultures, religions, and ideas out there than what i was exposed to in my predominately white school.

    i think children also need to be exposed to hard work. it builds character and brings to life the value of education. instead of detention kids should be assigned janitorial duties.

    longer school days will mean more afternoon cuts. i think we need bigger schools and classes, less teachers, another day added maybe sunday and no more summer vacations. maybe then kids will realize education is no joke and that we are competing on a world level.

    our kids are already fat now we are tryin to make them stupid too because we are a cheap country. typical america

    March 13, 2010 at 7:41 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Katy

    I thought Jason made total sense. He didn't say that lengthning the school day would lead to more kids cutting classes, he felt disengaged because he was only in school 4 days a week. I liked what he had to say.

    March 17, 2010 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Mara

    Amazing blogging site, keep me through searching it, I am seriously serious to know more about it.

    August 31, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Ben Dover

    TeeHee

    October 27, 2010 at 9:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Jerry Naroden

    We need to keep 5 days a week school so mom and dad can work and the children do not have too much down time to get in trouble specially if they can not afford child care. A better idea is to end school with grade 10 like in some other countries. This will leave more class room space and not leave rooms empty for that week day. Also with all the money saved could help fund the first year of collage.

    March 4, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. tvalosek

    It is so amazing how visceral the comments were. Quite clearly few of the comments and article authors have little educational experience. There is little ways to actually track how well a 4 day school program will work. Testing unfortunately is one of the only ways. The data coming out of school districts that have switch to 4 day school weeks is quality information for making an informed decision. District that are committing to the concept and actually increasing the quality of teach during the 4 days are seeing a significant increase in test scores. Districts that already have poor test score are not. I would conclude that a district that is committed to good education would benefit greatly from going to the 4 days school week.

    March 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Lance

      I go with tvalosek. He is one of the only people here going off of actual fact.

      February 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm | Report abuse |

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