Some school districts across the world find that one day less of classes per week can produce more effective learning. But not everyone is convinced.

Girls in school uniforms head to classes. A calendar shows that Monday is off.
Girls in school uniforms head to classes. A calendar column shows that Mondays are off. (Illustration by Kaja Andrić)

 This article, by high school student Devon Chipman, was produced out of News Decoder’s school partnership program. Devon is a student at The Tatnall School, a News Decoder partner institution. Learn more about how News Decoder can work with your school.

Can you learn more if you go to school less? 

The answer, many schools are finding, is yes. In the United States, more than 900 school districts have switched to having one more day off, but it’s proving to be controversial. Will this trend continue to grow to more districts in the United States and beyond?

Many school districts in the western U.S. states of Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado have adopted the four-day system, and the trend is beginning to catch on in other western states such as Texas and Montana. The motivations of this system in the west and east seem to be different, but it’s possible that taking off a day in schools could be beneficial everywhere.

Schools worldwide are adopting the idea, whether it be taking off a day fully, or implementing half days throughout the week to leave time for recreational activities. 

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic, levels of teen mental health issues have been on the rise. 

Shifting schedules

Rebecca Whitesell, the school counselor of The Tatnall School in Wilmington, Delaware, where I attend school, sees this issue day in and day out. 

“I think we’ve come to a point in this world where we need to slow down, she said. “There’s way too much pressure on teens these days to over-perform. They are scheduled until it’s bedtime. They need to decompress, and two days is not enough.”

In 2021, Tatnall practiced virtual Wednesdays. The system showed that an extra day to slow down made a significant change in students’ lives. 

“People really looked forward to that extra day off and had more energy when they came back,” Whitesell said. 

Some schools are scheduling asynchronous days, where students are expected to work on assignments on their own time schedule. This gives students a day to slow down but still requires that they continue their academics.

Similarly, schools in Poland, France and Australia have tried a model where one day is used for recreational activity instead of classroom time. Known as “non-traditional learning,” this method not only reduces student stress, but lets them have more fun. 

Mastering time management

One extra day, whether asynchronous or recreational, can make a real impact for students who deal with packed schedules and late nights. 

Katrina Endres, a varsity runner at Tatnall, knows what it is like to feel over-scheduled. “As an athlete, I feel that sleep is really important, and I lose a lot of sleep when I’m overloaded with work and practice,” she said. “I also think the overly structured nature doesn’t allow students to adequately prepare for the freedom we will face in college, and a lot of us struggle to do work when nobody’s pressuring us to.’’

Endres said many students lack time management skills and have procrastinating issues when they get to college and life beyond.

In secondary school, we learn that we must manage our time from minute to minute, and when we suddenly have wide-open schedules and less structured education, many end up falling short. According to the Education Data Initiative, 29% of college freshmen drop out, and a frequently cited reason is unpreparedness.

Introducing a four-day school week and more free time would help students better balance all aspects of their lives: school, work and health.

Switching schedules isn’t a snap.

In bigger schools with many different types of students, however, administrators might have difficulty forcing the switch. “I support it from a mental health perspective, I support it from a life-work balance perspective,” said Bill Schluter, Head of Upper School at Tatnall. “But we need all the classroom time we can get.”

Schluter said that all Tatnall students continue on to four-year, competitive colleges or universities. “With a four-day week, not only would we probably have to go a 12-month year, but we would lose competitiveness when students apply to college,” Schluter said. 

While adopting the four-day system could benefit areas in the eastern part of the United States, it’s not nearly as popular as it is in more rural western areas that have a strong emphasis on experiential and labor-based learning. 

Tony Warren is superintendent of the Turner School in the U.S. state of Montana. “Reasons for switching from a five-day to a four-day week include accommodating Friday sports travel and recruitment retention,” Warren said. 

In Montana, many schools are small. Warren’s school has only 53 students in the entire K–12 program. Because of this, sports travel means that virtually half the school is absent on travel days. 

Farm culture in Montana was a significant factor. “A majority of our students live and work on large-scale farms and ranches, so it’s another day that they are available to help their families,” Warren said.

When most districts in rural areas made the switch, the rest followed, as staying with a five-day week would make it harder to compete for new employees. 

Not everyone is on board for taking a day off.

While there are positive aspects to a three-day weekend, some view the idea as problematic.

For one, child care for younger students is a financial concern for single parents and where both parents work, that could require an extra day of child care.

There is also the worry that on extra days off, students from poor families who rely on schools to provide free breakfast and lunch might go hungry.

Others worry that high school students are simply not ready for a less-structured school system.

Kate O’Neal, a senior at Tatnall, worries that a four-day week would tempt her to procrastinate. “With a five-day school week and a two-day weekend, I really have to prioritize my time,” O’Neal said. “I have a very specific after-school routine that allows me to get everything done on time, and I’m worried that having too much time would ruin that.”

 

Questions to consider:

  1. Why do experts say a four-day school week could help students?
  2. What concerns do some educators have about keeping students home an extra day?
  3. What do you like about a four-day school week? What do you think are the negatives?
Devon Chipman

Devon Chipman is in her last year of high school at The Tatnall School in the United States. She plans to attend Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts where she plans to play lacrosse. At Tatnall, Chipman is captain of the lacrosse team and plays field hockey. She loves to work out, go to the beach and take her dog for long walks.

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