Johnstown’s Bishop McCort Catholic High School will become a laboratory this fall for an idea that is gaining ground in some U.S. schools amid a shortage of teachers – the four-day school week.
Thomas Smith, Bishop McCort’s principal and chief administrative officer, said last week that the school will replace traditional instruction on Fridays with optional enrichment time, featuring activities such as SAT and PSAT test preparation, college visits, tutoring and science fairs.
Bishop McCort will add eight minutes to each class period Mondays through Thursdays, so students’ days will end at 3:05 p.m., 40 minutes later than they did this past school year. That means the school will continue meeting the state Department of Education’s requirement to provide at least 990 hours of instruction per school year, as our Joshua Byers reported.
Smith believes that Bishop McCort is one of the first schools in Pennsylvania to implement a four-day school week and that the optional enrichment Fridays are a novel idea, Byers wrote.
Smith and other McCort leaders who announced the new schedule at a press conference focused less on the teacher shortage and more on boosting morale, increasing attendance, improving instructional quality and offering students and teachers more time with their families.
“We think, overall, it’s going to be a game-changer for our school,” Smith said.
Veteran English teacher Lorie Regan said that she’s “really excited” about the opportunity to dig deeper into class material during longer classes, and freshman student Sam Herring added that he’s looking forward to using Fridays for traveling, tutoring and college visits.
Leaders at schools accross the country that have implemented four-day weeks have found that the change has helped them recruit and retain teachers, CNHI News Service’s “Leaving the Classroom” special report in February found.
CNHI reporter Ali Linan wrote that about 850 school districts across the nation have made the schedule switch, with many more likely coming.
Some district leaders in rural areas said that they initially bought into the idea as a money- saving measure – figuring that keeping school buildings shut for one extra day each week would cut costs for utilities, school bus fuel and the like – but found over time that the four-day week attracted more applicants for teaching positions.
The head of one district in rural Texas said that the shorter schedule provided enough of an incentive for experienced educators in the middle of their careers to take jobs there.
With schools locally, statewide and nationally struggling to find ways to hire and keep teachers, as The Tribune-Democrat has reported, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more schools start thinking about shortening their weeks.
“Anytime schools are facing critical resourcing issues, either state budget cuts or issues filling teaching and staff vacancies, I think schools are always looking for something that can attack that problem at very low cost … and the four-day school week fits that criteria,” said Oregon State University economics professor Paul Thompson.
But evidence about how this relatively new idea affects teacher recruitment and retention appears mostly anecdotal rather than statistical for now, and Thompson told Linan that it will take time to understand its overall impact.
“Keeping good teachers in these districts seems critical, and if the four-day school week allows them to do that, well, maybe this is a good policy to consider,” Thompson said. “Over the next five years, I think, we’ll know a lot more about whether or not this was successful at retaining teachers.”
And much is still unknown about how four-day weeks impact students’ academic outcomes.
The school leaders interviewed for CNHI’s special report said that they’ve seen little to no impact on academics after making the switch.
But a researcher with the education research nonprofit NWEA found a consistent small to medium negative impact on student achievement in four-day schools – although she reached that conclusion not by looking at particular schools’ scores before and after switching to a four-day week, but by comparing schools with four-day weeks to similar schools with five-day weeks, meaning that various differences among schools might have clouded the results.
With all these unknowns in mind, it’ll be worth watching how the four-day week affects Bishop McCort students and staff starting this fall. That information could help the decision-making process for other school leaders who might be considering taking the leap.
Tim Clark, president of Bishop McCort’s board of trustees, said that students’ test scores and other academic standards will be monitored in order to ensure accountability, and a faculty-led enrichment office will be established.
“We’re encouraged by the idea and like the opportunity it presents,” Clark said.