Drama in Georgia district reveals debate over four-day school week

The Chattooga County School District, which adopted a four-day week in 2010, is supposed to return to a five-day-a-week class schedule in August.

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The Chattooga County School District, which adopted a four-day week in 2010, is supposed to return to a five-day-a-week class schedule in August.

Despite mixed record, shorter weeks touted as teacher recruitment tool

Would the promise of a four-day work week entice more teachers to take a job?

A South Carolina school district is weighing that option as a means to attract and keep teachers. Nationwide, about 560 school districts in 25 states have adopted four-day weeks. Half of those districts are in Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

However, as a saga occurring now in a North Georgia district illustrates, four-day school weeks can be controversial. The Chattooga County School District, which adopted a four-day week in 2010, is supposed to return to a five-days-a-week class schedule in August.

The school board voted 4-1 in January to abandon the Tuesday through Friday schedule, citing the district's low test scores.

Driven by newly elected school board members worried about lagging academics, the reversal spurred community outrage, a student walkout at the high school in March and the resignation of the Chattooga superintendent on April 30.

An effort was even made to oust the school board chair over the decision to restore a five-day schedule, but a judge dismissed the petition earlier this month.

Peach County in Georgia introduced a four-day week in 2009 to save money, but returned to a five-day schedule in 2012.

Three-day weekends for school staffs are seen as a hiring perk by districts struggling to fill empty positions.

Florence County School District Three in South Carolina has 10 schools and 43 staff vacancies. In a news story in the Florence News, superintendent Laura Hickson told the district's board last week that the four-day week has been shown in other systems to improve teacher and student attendance and teacher retention and recruitment. It also opens time for more in-depth professional development, she said.

A shorter week requires longer days to satisfy state laws on mandated learning time for students, so Florence County School District Three could add 90 minutes to each of its four days. And there still could be classes on some Fridays for students who need extra help.

As the Florence News reports:

Hickson said in her report to the board that the first and third Fridays of the month would be designated for academic assistance and tutoring for students. Students who attend schools that receive 21st Century Grants would attend on the first and third Fridays. The second Friday of the month would be for onsite or online professional development. And the fourth Friday of the month would be off, according to Hickson's report.

According to an overview of this trend by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Reasons for implementing the shorter week vary, but most school districts implement a shorter week seeking to cut costs due to budget constraints. Research shows that the maximum possible cost savings for districts on a four-day week is 5.43 percent, but average savings range from 0.4 to 2.5 percent. The vast majority of four-day week schools are in small, rural districts; however, in recent years some larger, more urban districts have begun to consider the option of a shorter week.

Most four-day week schools operate Monday through Thursday, with a few opting for Tuesday through Friday. School days are lengthened to deliver the same amount of instructional time over fewer days, as required by state law. Some schools may offer optional enrichment activities, tutoring, or schedule time for teacher development during the fifth day.

Research on the academic impact of four-day school weeks is limited, and experts generally urge caution before cutting days and extending hours. Child development experts say lengthening classes and compressing them into four days can overwhelm young learners.

A study out of Colorado found having kids in school for less time led to a rise in some youth crime, particularly larceny. Opponents say the four-day school week is out of sync with working parents, who have to find child care. However, a 2017 study found school employees say shorter weeks improve staff morale.

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