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Four-Day School Week Overview
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Districts scheduling a school year of 160 days or more need no state approval. Local boards of education annually establish district calendars, but there is no requirement to report or submit calendars to the Colorado Department of Education (CDE). Scheduling a school year of more than 160 days is at the discretion of local districts.
The law does require any district offering less than 160 days of school to obtain prior permission from the Commissioner of Education. One of the duties of local school boards is:
C.R.S 22-32-109 (n) (I) To determine, prior to the end of a school year, the length of time which the schools of the district shall be in session during the next following school year, but in no event shall said schools be scheduled to have less than one thousand eighty hours of planned teacher-pupil instruction and teacher- pupil contact during the school year for secondary school pupils in high school, middle school, or junior high school or less than nine hundred ninety hours of such instruction and contact for elementary school pupils or less than four- hundred-fifty hours of such instruction for a half-day kindergarten program. In no case shall a school be in session for fewer than one hundred sixty days without the specific prior approval of the commissioner of education.
Some districts schedule adjusted or partial weeks for a variety of purposes. Some schedule four days per week during the winter, but not all year. Others arrange staff in-service days on a quarterly or monthly basis. Some have half-day in-services on a regular basis. There is complete flexibility for districts to schedule 160 or more days of instruction for a total of 1080 hours for the year.
The traditional instructional day has been six hours. Those districts on a strict four- day week normally hold classes for seven and one-half hours for 144 days per year. The total is still 1080 hours. Many districts exceed this total on a voluntary basis. Summer school, for example, is not counted in the annual hours since the requirement is that the schedule must serve all students.
The law states that local boards of education must schedule a minimum number of hours of teacher-pupil contact and teacher-pupil instruction for each school year. The specific hour requirements are found in Colorado Revised Statute 22-32-109. State Board Rule 1 CCR 301-39, amended in 2012, states that teacher-pupil contact and teacher-pupil instruction means that time when a pupil is actively engaged in the educational process of a district. Each local board of education shall define "educational process," which definition may include any work-study time provided under the supervision of a certificated or licensed teacher but shall not include any time provided for lunch. Each local board of education shall define "supervision of a certificated or licensed teacher." Beginning with calendars adopted for the 2010-2011 school year, each local board of education shall define "educational process" which may include passing time in that definition.
During the 2022-2023 school year, the Commissioner of Education approved the applications of 124 school districts (plus one BOCES and the Charter School Institute) to conduct less than 160 days of school. Out of 178 total districts, Colorado has a total of 147 small rural and rural districts, with 115 on four-day weeks. Of the 107 small rural districts (less than 1000 students), 96 are on four-day weeks. Of the 40 larger rural districts (1000-6500 students), 19 are on four-day weeks.
Districts utilizing the four-day week tend to be rural and sparsely populated. Many have great distances for students to travel with long bus routes. Many also have major distances to travel to athletic events, as they participate in differing sports, conferences, and leagues. The majority of four-day districts conduct no classes on Friday.
In 1980, the Colorado legislature allowed districts to pilot alternative weekly schedules. Districts desiring to pilot the four-day week made application to CDE. The law specified several criteria which had to be addressed prior to approval. An annual report was required. In 1980, three districts were approved for a four-day week. By 1981, twelve districts had been approved.
In 1985, the Colorado legislature changed the required school year from 180 days to 1080 hours. For three years, local districts were no longer required to make application and receive approval for alternative calendars. No records of local district schedules, calendars, or of any alternative school calendars were kept by CDE.
In 1988, the legislature passed a provision that required any district scheduling less than 160 days of school to obtain permission from the Commissioner. In 1990, a formal application process was instituted by CDE.
For the 1990-1991 school year, one additional district adopted a four-day week and one district returned to a five-day week for a total of 36 districts. For the 1991-1992 school year, 35 school districts were approved to conduct a less than 160 days school year. This was one less district than the previous year because one district scheduled exactly 160 days. For the 1992-1993 school year, 37 districts were approved.
In more recent years, the count of districts may also include a BOCES which operates a school and may also include the Charter School Institute (CSI). CSI first applied and was approved for this calendar for requested schools in the 2012-2013 school year.
The remainder of this paper consists of CDE employees’ observations. These are based on extensive conversations with practitioners in four-day districts and visitations to most of those districts.
The specific characteristics of four-day week districts vary widely. A few do not have school on Monday, but most schools do not have school on Friday. Many have utilized the extra day for a variety of activities; some have not. For those wishing to investigate specific situations, a listing of the currently approved districts is provided at the conclusion of this report. The impact of the practice will be discussed under several topics detailed below.
Among districts which have implemented the concept, the practice of the four-day week is very popular among students, parents, and teachers. Satisfaction surveys indicate that 80% - 90% of community members favor continuing the four-day week in districts which have been on the schedule for several years. The opposition seems to come from members of the community not directly associated with the school, and from those who feel that school employees should work a traditional week.
Districts moving toward a change from five-day to four-day weeks typically spend extensive time studying the issue and seeking widespread community involvement and participation in the discussions. Many times, visitations are made to other four- day week districts as part of the study. Even if the primary motivation is financial, careful attention is usually given to addressing questions and concerns of parents and teachers.
However, districts changing from the four-day week back to a five-day schedule usually have not engaged in extensive study and discussion. The decision has been made by the school board following an election which changed the board supporting the four-day week. The decision to go back has usually been greeted with much controversy and dissension. In one case, the board made a decision for a five-day week just prior to a board election. The old board was removed in the election and the new board reversed the decision and the district remained on the four-day week.
Reasons for popularity vary from district to district. Some reasons offered are as follows:
- More time for family and family activities;
- Friday teacher preparation time instead of weekend preparation;
- A longer weekend break so that the intensity of the other days can be relieved and, also, as a strategy for increasing teacher recruitment and retention.
The initial reasons for going from five to four days of school per week have generally been financial. Once again, the financial picture differs from district to district. However, there are several general trends which are reliable.
Transportation costs can be reduced by about 20%. In order to realize that level of savings, districts must severely restrict or eliminate transportation for activities or programs not conducted on regular school days. The capital, insurance, maintenance, and administrative costs remain relatively constant. Fuel, oil, salaries, and supervisory costs can be reduced. Transportation employees will have a reduction in net pay.
If districts are subsidizing the food service program from the general fund, 20% of that subsidy may be saved since the program runs only four days. However, certain fixed costs are not reduced.
If buildings are actually closed and placed on a weekend cycle, savings comparable to a three-day weekend can be realized. However, common practice is for buildings to be open for extra activities and for the use of staff. In most cases, heat is provided.
Most staff members are either on contract or on regular work weeks. Secretaries usually work 10-hour days with offices closed on the off day. Teachers and administrators usually receive the same annual salary. Hourly employees tied directly to the school day, such as aides and paraprofessionals, may or may not work the same number of hours per week.
The issue of baby-sitting seems to be a wash. With the longer school day, students get home at approximately the same time as their parents. The latchkey issue is virtually non-existent on school days. The issue is the full day of childcare needed on the fifth day. Most people have made the adjustment within neighborhoods or in other ways. With schools closed, more baby-sitters are available. It does not seem more difficult to arrange for a single full day of baby-sitting than for a couple of hours five days per week. In many cases, a single day is simpler.
The use of instructional time is probably the most controversial and least studied of all the issues. At the beginning, teachers clearly are faced with rearranging the instructional day. The major concern is for younger students and their ability to avoid fatigue.
When districts are strict about reducing interruptions of instructional time, the quality of that time can increase. The three-day weekend allows more flexibility for dealing with family and other conflicts which normally disrupt school. Appointments with doctors and dentists can be scheduled outside of school time. Sometimes, it takes all day to go to the dentist when a major drive is involved.
Some of the travel time associated with athletics and other activities occurs when school is not in session. A negative point is when a day of school is lost for any reason, it is a 20% longer day than a six-hour day, and, therefore, more hours are lost.
The general conclusion is that when strictly enforced, there are fewer disruptions to instructional time during the four-day week. Teachers, students, and parents adapt to the longer day by planning creatively for and pacing the delivery of instruction. This is true even for younger children.
There has been a concern expressed, by some, that some students in need of more frequent reinforcement may have trouble with the continuity of learning with the three-day weekend. This matter has not been studied or documented.
Colorado has a deeply ingrained tradition of local control. The general belief is that the best decisions are made by those at the grass roots level. This tradition led to the flexibility provided by the legislative decision requiring hours instead of days. That tradition is sometimes questioned on certain fronts. One of them is the use of time. There is a push in Colorado, as there is in the rest of the nation, for an increase in instructional time.
Even though the total number of instructional hours is the same, there is a negative reaction to the concept of 144 days of school. This is especially true for those pushing for a 200-day or longer school year.
Within local communities, the issue of four versus five days raises strong emotions. One board member indicated his brother would not speak to him because he voted to return to the five-day week. As with everything in education, opinions are strong and feelings run high.
The general feeling is that students do no worse on the four-day week than on the traditional schedule. If student performance is judged by satisfaction, then the results are very favorable.
An academic comparison study of Colorado school districts operating four-day and five- day calendars was completed by Dianne L. Lefly, Ph.D., Director of CDE Research & Evaluation and Jhon Penn, Executive Director of CDE Field Services in 2011. At the time of the study, there were sixty‐seven Colorado school districts that operated all their schools on a four‐day week rather than a five‐day week. Because Colorado law requires that all districts provide a specified amount of ‘contact time’ for students, the shorter week includes longer days so the actual ‘contact time’ is the same as the schools with longer weeks. The study compared the academic achievement and student growth of the four-day districts to the academic achievement of five‐day districts of similar size. Overall, the results indicated that both groups of districts performed similarly on the state assessments and that their students showed very similar amounts of academic growth as reflected by the Colorado Growth Model. A Comparison of Colorado School Districts Operating on Four-Day and Five-Day Calendars 2011 (PDF).
Few districts have changed from five to four days with the expressed purpose of improving student achievement; it has not been a significant issue.
The four-day week presents only one interesting method of utilizing time in ways other than the traditional. For many communities, it meets a need for efficiency. These communities tend to be small and rural in nature. Probably, these communities also have a larger percentage of traditional families with at least one parent not working outside the home. Many communities have a strong agricultural base with a tradition of family farms. There are potential implications beyond the rural setting. In the cities, school usually gets out around 2:30 or 3:00 p.m. If students stayed until 4:30, the latchkey problem could be reduced. The fifth day could then be used for family, recreational or community activities. In other words, the positive characteristics experienced by small districts might hold potential for larger districts as well.
There are many reasons why districts which originally changed to four days for financial reasons during the energy crisis have maintained the practice even though the energy crisis has passed. These reasons may have implications for consideration of a four-day school week calendar beyond just financial saving considerations.