The four-day workweek is the dream for a lot of Americans. Now, in hundreds of school districts across the country, it’s the reality.
To attract teachers, reduce student absenteeism and save a little money, more districts are moving to four-day weeks. This usually reduces classroom time, and it comes as many students deal with learning loss from being schooled remotely during the pandemic.
There are 900 students in Lathrop, Missouri, and they don’t go to school on Mondays.
“It’s kind of the new Sunday,” said school Superintendent Chris Fine.
New since 2010, to be exact, when Lathrop adopted a four-day school week.
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Fine said the original intent was to save money by cutting the hours the district needed — and had to pay — support staff.
“Cooks, custodians, bus drivers, even secretaries, they all work 32-hour weeks,” he said.
The district saves $125,000 per year — around 1.25% of its annual budget. That’s on par with what most districts save.
Fine said the students’ days in the building are longer, they don’t have half-days and snow days are made up by coming to school on the odd Monday.
So, Fine said, there hasn’t been a reduction in classroom time.
“We were able to add hours of instruction to the school day,” he said. “So we go Tuesday through Friday, basically 8:00 to 3:45.”
Other districts also increase the length of the school day, but Paul Thompson, an economics professor at Oregon State University, said many don’t increase it enough.
Some districts are reducing instruction time by five hours a week, he said. Which, in the wake of a couple of years of remote learning, is an especially big deal.
“To do this effectively, you need to find a way to recapture that lost time,” Thompson said.
There are other effects too, he said. Kids might not run around as much because they don’t go to recess, and unsupervised teenagers have more time to be … teenager-y.
Still, the vast majority of districts that go down to four days a week don’t go back.
Like Newcastle Public Schools in central Oklahoma, where Melonie Hau is superintendent. For the last six years, they’ve taken Fridays off.
But this Friday, they were actually in, and Hau said people were not feeling it.
“Folks are talking about their normal Friday errands that they would run that somebody else in their family will have to pick up this week,” she said.
Hau said teacher recruitment is one of the main reasons the district has kept the policy in place.
“We’ve had teacher candidates say that they chose us because of the extra day,” she said.
For parents who don’t have that extra day off, Hau’s district offers child care, for a fee.
There’s also evidence that in some places with four-day school weeks, mothers, specifically, work fewer hours.