Hooray for the Four-Day School Week?

January 11, 2017

Trent England

What is the best way to assess education in Oklahoma? While no single measure, or even basket of measures, is perfect, one might consider test scores, graduation rates, or success after graduation. Yet the consistently poor results of many Oklahoma public schools on these measures get clucks and sighs. Instead, citizens are told that the shortening of school weeks and a teacher shortage are the real signs of impending apocalypse.

The 1889 Institute recently dug into the teacher shortage issue, with surprising findings that challenge the conventional wisdom. The four-day school week, however, remains an oft presented exhibit in the prosecution of Oklahomans for supposedly underfunding schools (by, among others, the liberals at the Oklahoma Policy Institute and even VICE News).

Some Oklahoma administrators and parents, however, are starting to shake that narrative. Multiple local newspapers this week have published a report about the popularity of the new calendar under the headline: “Four-day school weeks growing in popularity amid cuts.”

“The teachers enjoy it. The kids like it. Parents are enjoying having an extra day with their children,” [Little Axe Public Schools Superintendent Jay Thomas] said. …

Thomas, in Little Axe, is a firm believer in a four-day week. When working as an administrator years ago in Fort Towson Public Schools in southeastern Oklahoma, he helped shepherd that district to shorter weeks.

“Your test scores are going to go up. Your attendance is going to go up. Overall teacher morale is a lot higher on a four-day school week,” he said.

Already Thomas said the Little Axe district is seeing positive results.

The number and quality of applicants for teaching jobs increased, he said, as word spread about the four-day week.

It turns out, four-day weeks are already popular in some other regions of the country, and education researchers and teachers unions remain uncertain about the effects. And while some districts might really drop a day due to budget constraints, districts like Catoosa Public Schools have switched to a four-day week while spending lavishly in other areas.

Two conclusions might be drawn from the mixed messages and uncertainty about four-day school weeks. One is that this is an area where local control—and local responsibility and accountability—makes sense. This is why local school boards are elected by local people to make decisions for their own community. Oklahoma is a diverse state, where urban and rural communities have different expectations and face vastly different challenges.

The other is that what really matters in education is … education. There are many ways to achieve the mission of an educated public. Outside the public system, there are private schools that operate less than five days a week with outstanding results. There are programs with longer hours than public schools. The new Cristo Rey school in Oklahoma City will provide traditional instruction four days of each week and require work on the fifth day. What really matters, four days or five, is how much Oklahoma kids are learning.