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The four-day school week: why less really is more

A superintendent in Oregon explains the reasons why a shift to a four-day school week works well for students, teachers, and families. Start with better academic performance.

A teacher explaining a lesson

A teacher explaining a lesson cybarian77/flickr

Don Kordosky, writer of "The Four-Day School Week: Less IS More"

Don Kordosky, writer of "The Four-Day School Week: Less IS More" Don Kordosky

As soon as next year, Eatonville High School could be running on a four-day week

As soon as next year, Eatonville High School could be running on a four-day week Eatonville School District

Crosscut recently reported on the Eatonville School District's  consideration of a four-day school week, which is already being used by two rural school districts with fewer than 150 students in Eastern Washington. During this legislative session, Sen. Randi Becker R-Eatonville, proposed a bill that would allow 20 school districts of up to 2,200 students to use the four-day school week. Here, Don Kordosky, superintendent of Oregon's Oakridge School District, shares his personal experience and insights on making the switch.

When considering the switch from a five-day school week to a four-day school week, one need only recall that classic saying: “Less is more.”

As superintendent of Oakridge School District in Oregon, I learned this through personal experience when my schools made the switch. Initially, I was against the idea. How could a four-day week possibly be in the best interest of students? But after doing the research and seeing the benefits firsthand, I became a complete supporter.

The positives of the four-day week far outweigh the negatives, and the negatives can all be alleviated through well-thought-out strategies. The parents of our students, the staff, the school board, and the entire community of Oakridge reviewed the four-day week for an entire year prior to implementation. Since implementation I have become a four-day week advocate because of all the positive attributes including: better student academic performance, increased teacher vitality, increased student engagement, decreased student discipline problems, and an improvement to the overall culture of excellence for the district.

Most school districts originally begin a review of the four-day school week as a strategy to address financial shortfalls. (Mine did not.) By trimming one day off the week, a school can save in bus services, cafeteria, and facilities costs. This can be especially crucial during state budget shortfalls, where K-12 funding can be in danger of cuts, and even more so for rural school districts, which must run their schools on a minimal budget. But not all school districts go to a four-day week because of money, and certainly it is not the only way a school can benefit from the change.

The four-day week is not for all districts, and there are negative attributes that need to have alleviation strategies in place prior to implementation. Negative attributes include parent fears of not being able to find child care on Fridays, fatigue for students that have to attend school for longer days, and decreases in compensation for employees who lose hours.

An example of an alleviation strategy for the child care concern is the offering of Red Cross Childcare First Aid certification classes for high school students. These students then became available for parents who could not find relatives or other child care on Fridays. Another strategy is offering extra duty employment for bus drivers, cooks, and custodians, who all lose significant hours. In our district we made it a practice to offer all paid athletic supervision and activity duties to the employees who lost work time prior to other employees. Regardless of the negative consequence associated with the four-day week, there are strategies to alleviate the negative impact on students, families and staff.

Of note, many parents have found that eliminating the large number of half-days for students that plague five-day weeks — such as teacher work days, curriculum days, grading days, inservice days, etc. — has made finding childcare easier. With the four-day week, teachers can do their non-teaching activities on the day off, and therefore schools do not have to send children home at awkward and inconsistent times.

However, what I have found is that most common four-day school week objections are derived more from a fear of change (and a indeed a reasonable concern) rather than empirical study. When scrutinized, these objections are both addressed and debunked by the switch. To demonstrate that point, here are four reasons why the four-day school week is an improvement to the five-day week.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Feb 16, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

He makes a forceful case for the four-day school week.

He also wrote: "The four-day week is not for all districts". I'd like to learn more about the districts that he thinks would not be well-served by this sort of change. I was surprised that he doesn't see the Friday as an opportunity for struggling students to get some support. Perhaps these topics are covered in his book, where he has more room to discuss the idea.

coolpapa

Posted Thu, Feb 16, 9:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps I missed it but I read this article and didn't see anything other than anecdotal assertions supporting the statement in the subtitle "Start with better academic performance". If nothing else, the US education system tests its students up the wazoo so it cannot be a lack of data that stops Superintendent Kordosky discussing quantitatively how the students' academic performance improved in his district.

I am sure the teachers love a 4 day work week; it is popular in other venues but does not generally lead to higher productivity which is why it is rare in the private sector (except for medical profession which nobody would accuse of being efficient). I am sure teachers' morale would also improve with a 25% pay raise, so why don't we give it to them and introduce a long school day 5 days a week. I think we would then see spectacular improvements in student performance because as Superintendent Kordosky points out, short school days are inefficient.

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