A shorter school week could help cut down on bullying, suggests a new study in the journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.
More than 1,600 school districts, spread across nearly half of all states, have adopted the four-day school week. While it remains overwhelmingly a rural schooling model, since the pandemic, the schedule has gained traction in areas with tight budgets and even tighter teacher labor markets.
“You hear over and over again from families, from students, from teachers that kids are happier, that there’s increased morale, there’s improved school climate, there’s positive effects on school discipline, but that often doesn’t show up in surveys” of schools with four-day weeks, said Emily Morton, a research scientist at the Center for School and Student Progress at NWEA and the author of the study.
Instead, Morton analyzed nine years of data from attendance and behavior incident reports, a dozen years of demographic data, and ACT results for public high school students attending 417 districts in Oklahoma between 2007-08 and 2018-19. She tracked noted differences in the data as districts switched from five-day to four-day school schedules.
When schools moved to four-day weeks, Morton found bullying incidents decreased 39 percent, or .65 fewer incidents reported per 100 students, compared to bullying rates before the schedule change. Fighting and assaults dropped by .79 incidents per 100 students, or 31 percent, after schools moved to the four-day week.
“Part of that is probably mechanical: They’re spending less time in school,” she said. “So it depends on when we think bullying happens; if it happens at lunchtime and they actually now only have four days of lunch, instead of five days of lunch, that’s a reduction in time that the bullying or fights might happen. But both the number of incidents and the percentage of students who are experiencing bullying is still decreasing, so even if [time] is part of what’s explaining it, that’s not explaining all of it.”
Morton thinks the shortened schedule may also improve school and student morale and give students more time to relax, which could reduce discipline problems. She noted that 95 percent of the high schoolers studied approved of the schedule change. Another recent study by RAND Corp. also found broad anecdotal support for the four-day weeks by parents and students.
There were no other changes in academics or student discipline—attendance and ACT scores were no better or worse, and vandalism and drug or alcohol use stayed steady at schools before and after moving from a five- to a four-day week. Morton also cautioned that the discipline data could not distinguish whether there were changes in cyberbullying when students spent more time out of school, as has been found in studies of student behavior during remote pandemic instruction.
Teenagers did pick up more work hours with their time off from school, Morton found. Those in schools with four-day weeks spend two hours a day on average at a job, compared to 1.5 hours a day on average for students in five-day-a-week schools. However, this might underestimate the amount of work students actually did, Morton said, because students reported spending time helping with ranch, farm, and mechanical work at home.