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As more schools switch to 4-day weeks, will teachers stay?

Some districts say the four-day schedule helps attract and retain teachers.

September 18, 2023, 4:01 AM

For most of her teaching career, Jean Schneider, a high school business teacher in Colorado, said she often had to choose between her school life and her home life and find time to balance the needs of her students with those of her family.

Now, Schneider works four days a week, Tuesday through Friday. Her school district -- Colorado's 27J Schools -- is part of a growing trend of districts across the U.S. that have moved to four-day weeks to solve budget issues and teacher shortages.

"The four-day schedule for a teacher is wonderful. It really has given me an extra day back with my family," Schneider told "Good Morning America." "When I start on Tuesday, I really feel far more prepared than I ever did on the five-day week and I think it's because I'm allowed that extra personal time just to make sure I'm ready."

PHOTO: Jean Schneider has been a business teacher at Prairie View High School in Henderson, Colorado for the last six years.
Jean Schneider has been a business teacher at Prairie View High School in Henderson, Colorado for the last six years.
Tyler Hobbs/Prairie View High School

School District 27J, a suburban school district northeast of Denver, is one of an estimated 1,600 school districts across the country that now have students in classrooms four days a week instead of five.

Oregon State University associate professor Paul Thompson, who studies the impacts of four-day school schedules, said states like Texas, Arkansas and Missouri have seen the most recent transitions to four-day weeks. In Texas alone, he said, over 70 school districts have switched to a four-day week in the past three years.

The four-day schedule tends to be most attractive to rural and smaller school districts that face logistical and financial challenges, according to Thompson.

"Small rural districts have smaller tax bases," Thompson told "GMA." "It's harder for them to raise funds to pay teachers better and so these nonmonetary benefits can be seen as a way to quickly try and attract teachers, instead of trying to go to taxpayers within these very small confines that they have."

Why a suburban Colorado school district moved to four-day weeks

For 27J Schools, Superintendent Chris Fiedler said the nontraditional move was mainly to keep and recruit more teachers to the school district when the district's pay rate was lower than nearby districts who had more funding available.

PHOTO: Prairie View High School is shown in Henderson. Colorado.
Prairie View High School is shown in Henderson. Colorado.
Google Maps Street View

"We know the biggest impact on a student's experience is the quality of the adult in the classroom with them, whether it's a teacher or support staff," Fiedler told "Good Morning America." "[And it's] a way to recruit folks without being able to pay them as well as our surrounding districts."

The starting pay for a teacher in the U.S. is roughly $42,844 and teachers today make about $3,644 less than what they did a decade ago, according to the National Education Association. Since switching to a four-day schedule and getting more tax funding, 27J Schools has been able to increase starting teacher pay nearly $9,000 to about $52,000, according to Fiedler.

In addition, the timetable change at 27J Schools has also freed up time for additional job training. With teachers' schedules packed every day, the school district now uses Mondays without students to offer training time for teachers.

"We have our teachers come in … one Monday a month, a half day in the mornings and do all their professional development," the longtime superintendent explained.

PHOTO: More school districts across the U.S. have switched from a five-day to a four-day school week.
More school districts across the U.S. have switched from a five-day to a four-day school week.
ABC News Photo Illustration

With the switch, 27J Schools extended the school day by 40 minutes on weekdays. Teachers now start on Tuesdays at 7:30 a.m. and their workday technically wraps up at 4:32 p.m., Fiedler explained.

Could four-day weeks help solve a teacher shortage?

Both Schneider and Fiedler said the four-day school week has led to better teacher candidates coming to the district.

They noted they don't see the district returning to a five-day schedule in the near future, especially with a severe teacher shortage still affecting schools across the country.

"It was typical to have two or three candidates for a teaching position," Schneider said. "After we implemented [a] four-day week, it became typical to have 10 to 12 candidates for a position, so it really was an attractive way to bring in new teachers."

"We haven't seen a hiring cycle like this in maybe ever," Fiedler added. "I don't think we have any openings for teachers at the moment. We're fully staffed, and I can tell you, that's not been the case the last three, four, five years."

Last year, Mineral Wells Independent School District in northern Texas also moved to a four-day school week. Since then, it has seen hiring improvements, including "quality applicants," and improved teacher attendance as well. Superintendent John Kuhn told ABC Dallas affiliate station WFAA, "It worked ... we've seen improvements in our hiring, and not just filling the spots, but filling the spots with quality applicants."

Do four-day weeks work for students and parents?

Critics of the four-day school week say the policy changes can negatively impact students, who now have less time to learn in the classroom, and that four-day weeks complicate matters like child care and nutrition and could even lead to more juvenile delinquency.

"What we've been finding in Oregon and nationally, and in other states as well, from other researchers, is it is generally reducing achievement for students across the grade spectrum and what we see as driving that are these reductions in how many hours students are in school," Thompson said.

PHOTO: Paul Thompson is an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University, where he has taught for the last 10 years.
Paul Thompson is an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University, where he has taught for the last 10 years.
Oregon State University

For school districts considering switching to a four-day schedule, but are concerned about academic decline, Thompson said research suggests schools increase instruction time in other ways to match the amount of time students get in the classroom under a five-day schedule.

"If you're a school district that has maintained instructional time close to what it was under a five-day model, we really see no difference in achievement outcomes among four versus five-day students," Thompson said. "Many schools only increase it by like, 30 minutes a day, which doesn't seem sufficient from our research evidence so far."

He continued, "Lengthening [the school day] an hour or more per day on the other four days, providing remedial or enrichment activities on that non-school weekday, or … asynchronous learning on the day off [may help]."

Fiedler noted that despite only a 40-minute addition to their four-day school weeks, the district has still seen their students' graduation rates increase.

PHOTO: Chris Fiedler has been the superintendent of 27J Schools for the last 12 years. Fiedler said he plans on retiring at the end of the year.
Chris Fiedler has been the superintendent of 27J Schools for the last 12 years. Fiedler said he plans on retiring at the end of the year.
Courtesy of 27J Schools

"We've improved our graduation rates every year since we transitioned to a four-day week," Fiedler said, noting that the district saw a graduation rate of over 90% for the first time in 2022. (The previous year, 2021, the district saw a graduation rate of 88.2%%). "We were already on an upward trend there … but what I do know is that change has not hurt us."

With about 65% of American households having both parents employed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, child care can be a valid concern for many parents when it comes to a four-day school week.

Fiedler said 27J Schools has addressed the lack of school on Monday by offering a full day of child care for families at a cost of around $35 per child and estimates about 350 to 400 students currently participate in the Monday care program.

Fiedler also said if local families want to continue with a five-day school week, they can choose to enroll their kids in one of five of the district's charter schools that have remained on a five-day schedule.

Dani Jayne, a stay-at-home mom of three who also fills in as a part-time substitute teacher at 27J Schools, said the four-day school week has given her family more time together.

PHOTO: Dani Jaynes also works as a part-time substitute teacher in 27J Schools.
Dani Jaynes also works as a part-time substitute teacher in 27J Schools.
Courtesy of Dani Jayne

While Jayne has the benefit of being able to stay home with her kids -- a fourth grader, a first grader and a preschooler -- on their Monday off school, she said the schedule makes their lives "less hectic."

"It gives [us] a little more family time on the weekends and it's less hectic to try and get everything done in two days on the weekend during the school year," Jayne told "GMA." "You get a little more flexibility."

PHOTO: Dani Jayne and her husband have three children, who all attend 27J Schools in Colorado.
Dani Jayne and her husband have three children, who all attend 27J Schools in Colorado.
Courtesy of Dani Jayne

Thompson noted that while some school districts are finding success with a four-day week, there is not yet any "large-scale evidence" to support a national change, saying there's "no one size fits all" approach.

Thompson said among the questions that remain to be answered are how to "mitigate the costs" for students and families and how to make sure kids on four-day school schedules are properly fed, supervised and kept active on their non-school weekday.

"We don't really know whether or not this is an effective educational model," he said. "The biggest emphasis is around teacher retention and recruitment and we really don't have a lot of large-scale evidence to support whether or not that's effective yet."

Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, expressed skepticism about the benefits of a four-day school week and school districts' claims that it's a key solution for the teacher shortage.

"A four-day work week is not a ‘magic pill’ to solve the teacher shortage," Weingarten said in a statement to "GMA." "If we’re serious about addressing learning loss, loneliness and literacy in the wake of the pandemic, we need all hands on deck, not shorter hours that will hurt educators’ efforts to help kids recover and thrive. With public education under attack from extremists waging divisive and unnecessary culture wars, a truncated week could be just the excuse some politicians need to reduce, rather than ratchet up, investments and supports in our schools."

The National Education Association, which represents over 3 million teachers and staffers, also agrees that the long-term impact of four-day school weeks remains to be seen.

"While we've seen some encouraging anecdotal evidence, the long-term effects of this approach are still unknown," the teachers union said in a statement to "GMA."

"For those districts considering implementing this strategy, early and ongoing educator, family and community collaboration are critical," the statement continued. "Consideration for child care, nutrition, and [Individualized Education Program] services is paramount."

The union said the purpose of a four-day week "must be in service of creating an education experience that meets the needs of the whole student and provides educators the time to teach, nurture, and support their students and engage their families," and that there must also be "a partnership with administrators and school boards so they can support the work and collaborate with educators and families on the trade-offs, benefits and costs of adopting this as a strategy."

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