In a study published in 2013, the effects of four-day weeks on student achievement were evaluated by assessing the math and reading scores of fourth- and fifth-grade students. The study included scores from 2000-2010 at 15 schools using the traditional five-day schedule and 14 schools that had switched to four-day weeks. The schools were chosen based on similarities in size and school characteristics, including socioeconomic characteristics and ethnic demographics of the school areas, and the number of students enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs, according to an article written by a one of the researchers heading up the study, Mary Beth Walker. The study was also completed using only school districts in Colorado to avoid differences in state standards and education requirements, and the state allowed for a large pool of schools from which to choose, as more than one-third of Colorado’s school districts operate using the four-day week schedule.
Overall, the research seems to indicate that a four-day school week improves math scores, and reading scores were not affected. Essentially, the study found that the four-day week does not have discernable negative impacts on student achievement but rather improves one area while the other remains the same or only slightly improved. However, test scores, and this study alone, are not enough to create a need or desire for national changes in education systems.
A school in Chattooga County, Georgia, has adopted this four-day schedule, and, so far, the school district seems to be mostly benefiting from the change, especially financially. The school has saved money on bus transportation, substitute teachers, electricity, and other expenditures, allowing them to save almost $800,000 annually after switching to a four-day school week in 2010. Saving this much money allows the school to keep electives and sports that other schools have found themselves forced to cut. Students’ test scores have also increased in the district, raising it above the state average for test scores. The district has even seen a drastic decrease in the frequency of discipline referrals by 73 percent. All of that said, with the change in the number of school days comes a change in the length of school days. This district begins classes Monday through Thursday at 7:40 a.m. and ends the day at 3:45 p.m. to make sure that it’s meeting the 150 hour-per-year minimum as outlined by the state and also keeping its old vacation schedules without extending the school year further into summer time.
There are several schools with similar stories to that of the Chattooga district, but there is still the potential for this new four-day fad to disappoint. Schools will be looking to this change as a means of cutting costs, as Chattooga did, but it’s not clear how effective this will be in all types of areas. It has mainly been tested in rural areas, and there have been no studies regarding the use of four-day weeks in urban districts at all. However, there are some pros and cons that the 2013 study discovered, which may or may not hold true for urban schools in the future but can certainly provide some perspective on why it might be a good idea for school districts to at least consider the possibility of change.
Pros for Teachers
Longer class periods allow for greater flexibility in how lessons are organized and what material can be covered each day, potentially allowing for more varied teaching methods.
The day off can be devoted to teacher planning or conferences on days that teachers will not have to plan around and let affect schedules or lesson plans.
It can reduce turnover and absenteeism, and higher teacher turnover rates have been proven to negatively impact student achievement.
It may lead to higher productivity if teacher have three days off to recuperate from the week.
Cons for Teachers
Teachers might face difficulties initially adapting their lesson plans or their teaching styles to the schedule change.
There is the possibility that teachers would respond poorly to the longer days and shortened weeks, adding greater stress and fatigue.
Pros for Students
Better attendance; higher student attendance rates have been associated with better test scores. Students will have a day to schedule medical and other essential appointments on their day off rather than during their school week, allowing them to miss fewer classes.
The study showed that students were less distracted, exhibited an improved morale, and behaved better.
With a three-day weekend, students gain an extra day to do homework and to prepare for classes.
It permits flexibility in the event of school cancellations, particularly weather-related. Schools can reschedule missed days without increasing the length of the school year and can reschedule classes before test days rather than after, making sure students are not cheated out of class time to prepare.
Test scores fall for high school students with minimal time between testing. While students have less time to recover between days during the school week, a longer weekend might enhance student performance on tests, as it’s been shown in various studies that test scores, especially for high school students, fall when students have minimal time to prepare.
Cons for Students
It has been conjectured that it would be difficult for students to retain subject matter when given an extra day off. Although the study suggests that this is not the case, further research needs to be done to assess whether this differs for students in different demographics.
Longer school days require added focus and attention, which could be an especially difficult adjustment for younger students with shorter attention spans.
Parents might need to find a daycare service or after school program for their youth to attend on their days off if there is not a parent home on that day. While this might not be necessary for high school students, it is still debated whether finding alternative arrangements for their days off will negatively affect students.
What do you think of the four-day week? How could this change positively or negatively affect you?