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The 4-Day School Week: A Work in Progress

School districts that switched to shorter weeks are still unsure of benefits beyond the budget.

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Teachers working at districts with four-day school weeks are often required to use their student-free day for professional development.
Teachers working at districts with four-day school weeks are often required to use their student-free day for professional development.

Colorado's Garfield School District No. Re-2 trimmed its school week to four days last year in the hopes of saving roughly half a million dollars. The move paid off, at least as far as the budget is concerned.

The rural district saw a savings of roughly $480,000, says Theresa Hamilton, the director of districtwide services at Garfield.

"That predominantly comes on the backs of our classified staff – our bus drivers, our nutrition services workers, our secretaries, our paraprofessionals," she says. Unlike salaried teachers, who are still required to work on the fifth day, these employees' hours were cut by the shorter workweek.

Budgets are not the only thing to consider in this equation, though. There are students and teachers, instruction and learning. Where those factors are concerned, the jury is still out.

[Learn why some educators promote shorter weeks.]

Garfield's reading and writing scores increased between four and six percentage points at the high school level, but math scores were stagnant, she says. But district officials aren't reading too much into the scores.

"One year of data does not make a trend," Hamilton says. "As a district, that data didn't say anything significant either way. It's not helping or hindering."

District officials are keeping a close eye on student progress. They are also keeping tabs on teacher development. Unlike students, teachers are still on a five-day week, with the free day intended for professional development and mentoring.

Hansen School District in Idaho, which switched to a four-day week in 2010, isn't ready to declare the change a victory yet, either.

"Things vary from year to year, from class to class, especially in a small school. So it's very hard to say whether education is better or not better with a four day week," Dave Bjorneberg, chairman of the Hansen School Board, told a local news station last month.

[Read more about the trend toward four-day weeks.]

At Hansen, teachers are available one Friday each month to offer extra help for students who need it. The remaining Fridays are dedicated to professional development. Garfield, on the other hand, cut back on the number of professional development days.

"Our most involved teachers ended up being in some sort of class every Friday," Hamilton says. This left little time for collaboration, much less prep time, she says.

This year, Garfield teachers spend one Friday each month working with other educators around the district. Some months, a day is also blocked off for teachers to focus on grades and lesson planning.

Giving teachers some time to breathe is important, too, Hamilton says.

"We have at least one Friday a month where teachers don't have anything scheduled, so that they have a little bit of downtime," she says.

While teachers have plenty to keep them busy for the full week, keeping students occupied during their days off can be a challenge.

"One of the things we did was work with community partners to try and come up with fifth day opportunities," she says. "Some of those have worked out really well, and some of them haven't."

[Discover how community partnerships can enhance learning.]

Partnerships with the local library and community hospital have been particularly successful, but full-day programming outside school for students at all grade levels is still lacking, she says.

"That's the one place where I wish we could really beef up those opportunities."

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