4-day school week now allowed in Pennsylvania. What would the impacts be?

PITTSBURGH — Five days a week, Amanda Haines’ daughter gets on the bus precisely at 8:25 a.m. to go to school. But what if she got on earlier and stayed in school longer each day so she’d only have to go to school 4 days a week?

“It would cause a lot of hardship. I think not just for me, but a lot of working parents,” said Haines.

A change in a public school code that Governor Josh Shapiro signed at the end of last year does allow for four-day school weeks in Pennsylvania.

Here’s how: instead of making it a requirement for students to go to school for 180 days and 990 hours a week, districts have the choice of 180 days or 990 hours a week.

“I think this is a great opportunity for schools to look and see how we can better educate our students,” said Rep. Aaron Bernstine of the 8th Legislative District covering parts of Butler & Lawrence Counties.

The bill co-sponsor says a four-day school week isn’t the reason behind the change in school code, but it gives districts that option.

Emily Morton, a researcher at the American Institutes of Research, has been researching four-day school weeks for several years and says more school districts have been adopting the idea in the last few years.

Most of them, she says, add a few hours to each day and have Fridays or Mondays off.

“By and large they’re saying that its to address teacher shortages,” said Morton, especially in rural districts, where it might be harder to recruit and retain good teachers.

She has research showing that it boosts morale among teachers and students and reduces rates of fighting and bullying.

But what about the impact on their education?

“They’re not equivalent: the four-day school week and the five-day school week,” said Morton. “These students on the four day school week are performing less well.”

Morton says the results show small but significant negative effects.

No surprise that Morton says most kids are on board with a four-day school week. Channel 11 talked with a group of Pittsburgh Public School students who did their own research project on a four-day school week. They’re part of the Community Cares Club at Wooslair Elementary School. Their idea is to give families options for the last day of the school week.

“The fifth day is meant for working parents. So if they do have work, they can sent their child to their neighborhood school and they can have those activities,” said 5th grader Jaliyah Haden.

No school districts in Pennsylvania currently have four-day school weeks. Most of the 2,100 schools that do are in the Midwest and Western U.S. and are in rural communities.

Morton’s research shows that it works best in rural school districts because many of the parents are teachers, the kids have extended families to help with care, or the students themselves help with family work or have obligations out of town that takes them out of school anyway on a Friday.

“I don’t see it working in an urban and suburban area for the childcare reason,” said Morton.

She is now researching if school districts are retaining teachers longer on a four-day school week.

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