Lower transportation costs. Less money spent on facilities and overhead. Increased teacher and student attendance. And...higher test scores? New research suggests, perhaps counterintuitively, that the four-day school week not only doesn’t hurt student achievement, but seems to help.
The four-day school week has some appeal when budgets are tight, especially in rural districts where students and teachers may travel a long way to get to school. Schools in 17 states have four-day school weeks, which usually entail longer school days in order to meet instructional hour requirements. In Colorado, for instance, more than a third of districts use the shorter week. These are mainly small, poor, rural districts, serving about 3 percent of students in the state.
For “Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week,” Mary Beth Walker of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University and D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University compared 4th grade reading scores in 17 schools with compacted schedules and 5th grade math scores in 14 such schools with control groups designed to reflect the rural, usually low-income make-up of the schedule-switching schools. The researchers looked at math scores from 2001-2010 and reading scores from 2000-2010 from the Colorado Student Assessment Program.
Overall, districts with a four-day week started out with lower average scores than schools on traditional schedules, but saw a significant increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on both reading and math tests after they switched to the four-day week. Specifically, the researchers found that the shortened week was associated with a 7 percentage point gain in math scores and a 3 percentage point gain in reading. In reading, the improvement took place the year after the schedule was switched; in math, the improvement took place during the year the schedule was switched. In both cases, the improvements seem to have stuck for multiple years after the shift.
The report suggests a number of potential explanations, including improved attendance, increased teacher job satisfaction, and better teaching methods. (The longer school day might allow for longer lessons, for instance.) But this particular study doesn’t indicate which are actually at work here.
A four-day week presents some challenges, the researchers write, especially outside the rural context. Child-care needs for younger students would increase, and so might opportunities for teenage delinquency. The authors call for additional study into some of the implications of shorter weeks.
I was especially interested by the suggestion that the four-day week might lead to a decrease in the dropout rate and increase the potential for high school students to have part-time jobs. I’ve also heard the argument that a four-day work week would lessen schools’ environmental impact (think fewer commuters, less energy spent powering office buildings, etc.) and improved quality of life, though Utah’s experiment with the concept didn’t last too long.
What would a four-day school week look like in a more urban area? What are some benefits and challenges? Would a four-day week with longer days lead to an increase in your job satisfaction?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.