A small number of mostly rural districts in southern Texas are switching to four-day school weeks beginning in the 2022-23 school year primarily to help retain teachers and students.
In mid-March, the Jasper Independent School District in Texas made headlines after announcing on Facebook that its Board of Trustees unanimously decided to switch to a four-day model for the 2022-23 school year. District Superintendent John Seybold told Good Morning America that teacher burnout and difficulty recruiting teachers motivated the shift.
Tim Bartram, superintendent of Hull-Daisetta Independent School District in Texas, said the growing movement of the four-day school week will now be implemented in his district starting next school year, too. Hull-Daisetta ISD’s board voted to make the change in March, following suit after three other surrounding districts did the same, Bartram said.
Although districts can save money on bus fuel and utilities by switching to a four-day week, Bartram said he was purely motivated to make the change for the retention of students and staff. If Hull-Daisetta had decided to keep the traditional five-day school week instead, Bartram said there would have likely been a noticeable loss of both students and staff to the surrounding districts.
The district also sent out a survey to parents and staff prior to the vote about shortening the school week. In that survey, 66% of parents voted in favor of a four-day week, while about 98% of staff said the same, he said.
Why do rural districts prefer four-day weeks?
This four-day week trend often begins through a ripple effect as seen in Hull-Daisetta and other Texas districts, said Paul Thompson, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University. Thompson has conducted research surrounding the impacts of four-day school weeks on students.
Rural districts throughout Oregon started implementing four-day models in the 1980s, he said. Prior to the pandemic, in 2019, Thompson said there were 650 districts including 1,600 schools nationwide doing four-day school weeks. He imagines this number has grown as states like Texas and Arkansas begin to pick up on the trend.
About 90% of districts that switch to a four-day week are in rural areas, Thompson said.
A common reason districts — both rural and urban — seek this model is because it can save money and effectively recruit and retain students and staff, Thompson said.
Rural schools, however, uniquely prefer four-day weeks because they can limit extensive bus rides for students that can be as long as one to two hours long each way. A lot of schools have small enrollments, too. The four-day model also permits students to help their families who own farms in ranching communities on their off-days.
Negative impacts for younger students
Through his research, Thompson said he’s noticed four-day models in rural areas are more likely to negatively impact the academic achievement of younger students. This is likely due to the fact that high school students may have already been missing classes for appointments or athletic events, he said.
But for younger students, the four-day model can mean a significant loss in instructional time. If schools can’t lengthen the days for younger students under a four-day model, their achievement will likely suffer, he warned. Ideally, instructional hours should be identical in a four-day week compared to the five-day model, Thompson added.
“If time in school doesn’t change between whether you go four days a week or five days a week, the composition of the time doesn’t really seem to matter all that much for achievement,” Thompson said.
In 2015, a Texas law changed the school year calendar to require 75,600 instructional minutes instead of 180 instructional days for more schedule flexibility.
One major concern Bartram said he has regarding shortened weeks is that research has suggested economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities can struggle under this model.
To combat some of those challenges, he said the district will hold in-person enrichment programs for all students for half a day, one Friday per month.
“We do not want it to look like regular school,” Bartram said, adding that the district is going to pursue things like team teaching and field trips instead. “We’re going to do a lot of hands-on activities.”