New study: Four-day school schedule improves math and reading performance

Mary Beth Walker, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, has just published the draft of a study looking at four-day school weeks and their impact on elementary school students.

Her study offers a surprising conclusion: The adoption a four-day school week had a positive and often statistically significant relationship with performance in both reading and mathematics.

The study estimates the impact of the four-day school week on student achievement using 4th grade reading and 5th grade mathematics test scores in Colorado; more than a third of Colorado districts have adopted four-day schedules. Walker co-authored “Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week” with D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University.

According to the authors: “The four-day school week is associated with an increase of over 7 percentage points in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on the math achievement tests, and this result is estimated with precision. This represents roughly a 12 percent increase from the mean test scores for schools on traditional schedule.”

While not as pronounced in reading, the shortened week still had a positive point estimate of more than three percentage points. The study states: “For math, we find that the biggest share of the improvement comes from the students formerly classified as partially proficient… As a result, we see a large and statistically significant increase in the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level. For reading, the only statistically significant results occur in the lowest and the highest categories.”

Why?

The study suggests that the shorter week improves student attendance. Parents are also more likely to schedule appointments on the day off so fewer students miss class for medical or dental appointments. The four-day schedule permits flexibility in the event of weather-related school cancellations; schools can reschedule missed days without increasing the length of the school year.

The authors cite other research that teachers find that the four-day week cut out wasted time and forced them to focus their instruction more successfully. In some districts, the day off is devoted to teacher planning and collaboration. The authors say many school districts have reported fewer teacher absences after switching to the alternative schedule.

The study concludes: “In a time of tough budget situations for most public school systems, a variety of cost-saving measures have been adopted. To relieve financial pressures, a growing number of smaller and more rural school districts are switching from the traditional Monday through Friday school week to a four-day-week schedule. One concern, however, is that student academic performance may be compromised by such a switch. The results presented in this paper illustrate that academic outcomes are not sacrificed under the four-day week; in fact, we provide some evidence that math and reading achievement scores in elementary schools actually improve following the schedule change. The math results in particular are robust to a number of alternative specifications and checks.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

104 comments Add your comment

Ole Guy

March 1st, 2012
5:47 pm

I understand that a four-day work week also improves morale in the work place. This probably means that, if we adhere to 4-day a-week lives, our competitive stance, on the world stage, will be greatly improved.

Those “self-annointed experts” who dream up this _ hit should be exiled to never never land where they can’t do any damage.

Shar

March 1st, 2012
6:01 pm

Are the school days longer in a 4-day week?

Bernie

March 1st, 2012
6:03 pm

Since when did the Academia opinions of anyone from Georgia State University espouse a view that is widely admired from any higher educational institution in the world as expert advice and one that should be taken with great fanfare and acceptance as truthful and objective.

Ron F.

March 1st, 2012
6:17 pm

Some districts in Georgia have done this in the last two years, so it will be interesting to see how their scores look. As the budget cuts continue, I suspect we’ll see more school systems left with this as an option. I’m not sure I’m for it, but I know high school kids would love it!

tim

March 1st, 2012
6:21 pm

BS

Years ago kids didn’t have any problems learning.

Today……..tell them to pay attention and stop taking pills for their co called disorders and excuses that accompany them.

You want to save costs?…fire half the staff at the main office.

Eric

March 1st, 2012
6:31 pm

Shar, why must the school day have to be longer? If teaching and learning is going on, that should be enough without dragging out the day.

In fact, why stop here? Wouldn’t all students benefit from a 4-day week? Heck, I bet most of our workforce would be stronger and more productive in 4 days, since people would have time to recharge, take care of personal business the other days, and actually have some quality social time with family and friends for a change. Isn’t that the meaning of life?

Dave

March 1st, 2012
6:42 pm

This is refreshing to read, as Americans are obsessed with work and hardly ever espouse leisure time. If kids can learn the material in four days, go for it!

ABC

March 1st, 2012
6:46 pm

tim: years ago kids also had a lot more recesses than what they have today. Today they are LUCKY to get 20 mins of play, 20 mins to eat lunch and then they are forced to sit still and listen for hours on end. What healthy 6 to 10 year old (specially boys) can do that? I don’t wonder AT ALL why there seems to be so many more ADD cases these days.

And I’d be ok with this IF companies also realized that a 4 day week day was more productive AND if the school day does not become longer as a result. And if it does, only for more recess.

Linda

March 1st, 2012
6:52 pm

I knew it! I can’t think of a single drawback to this situation. A child’s brain can only absorb so much. Why should they spend so much time in school?

teacher&mom

March 1st, 2012
6:58 pm

@Eric: The day would have to be longer because of mandated “seat time” for middle and high school students.

flipper

March 1st, 2012
7:28 pm

Maureen… how much longer are the days at these schools? .. .or are they longer at all?

homeschooler

March 1st, 2012
7:56 pm

WOW..I’m so impressed that most of the comments support this. I was ready for a bunch of comments such as….”but what would parents do who work 5 days a week” . I think it is great. Kids can easily get in 4 days what they now get in 5. I’ve often said that there is no reason to have highschool 5 days a week. In fact we could cut the number of brick and mortar high schools needed in half if we would send highschoolers to school 2.5 days a week and allow them to do their work at home. It prepares them better for college, gives them a sense of independence and teaches responsibility. There would be no need for teacher instruction 5 days a week. Taxpayers would be saving tons of money by closing half the schools, providing half the lunches, paying for half the amout of transportation costs. I know there would be a concern about teachers losing their jobs but many could be on-line support teachers for the children at home. We already know that on-line and part-time highschools work. There is the GA Virtual Academy (or whatever they call it now) and there are numerous homeschool part time and online programs. Many many are successful.
I would worry if the 4 day week meant that a young elementary student would have to be in school longer. The day is so long already w/out many breaks.

ScienceTeacher671

March 1st, 2012
8:03 pm

We only went to kindergarten and first grade for half-days, and we did fine.

On the other hand, in elementary school we did a lot more “readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic,” and a lot less of the cute projects than elementary schools seem to do a lot of now.

Ron F.

March 1st, 2012
8:26 pm

flipper: the days are usually an hour to an hour and a half longer. Most schools already have longer days than are required minimally anyway. By adding the hour or so to the four days, you still reach the minimum seat time required. It seems to have worked in systems that have tried it from what I’ve seen and read. I’ve not read anything that showed that it lowered test scores. It would seem to be a bit much for elementary, but I think they work with scheduling to get non-academic time in the afternoon so they’re not forcing kids to do math or science in the extra time. It usually works out to be an extra 15-20 minutes per subject area, so it’s not a big adjustment.

Laurie

March 1st, 2012
8:56 pm

From the study: “Schools in Colorado began adopting four-day weeks following the legislature’s decision in 1985 to alter the minimum school year requirement from 180 days to 1080 hours for secondary schools and 990 hours for elementary schools.”

6.875 hours per day x 4 days per week x 36 weeks = 990 hours

7.5 hours per day x 4 days per week x 36 weeks = 1080 hours

Some APS elementary schools already do 7-hour days.

7 hours per day x 180 days per year = 1260 hours per year (for 5-year-olds and up)

Jack

March 1st, 2012
9:25 pm

A four-day school week is another step toward mediocrity.

Maureen Downey

March 1st, 2012
9:39 pm

@Flipper, Colorado sets requirements by hours rather than days. So, it requires elementary students attend 990 hours rather than 180 days. (High schools must have 1080 hours.)
That makes it easier to change to a four-day week.
They do have longer school days. I looked at the state website and saw that most of the schools have 7.5 hours per day for 144 days of school instead of the normal six hours for 180 days.
Maureen

Jerry Eads

March 1st, 2012
9:57 pm

To those of you who would disparage this work or are quick to disparage the authors or their school, let me cite from their page concerning the rankings of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies:

“Georgia State University ranked 27th among 269 graduate programs in public affairs surveyed recently by U.S. News & World Report. In the 2009 edition, Georgia State comes in fifth in Public Finance and Budgeting; 12th in City Management & Urban Policy; 13th in Nonprofit Management; 18th in Public Policy Analysis; 12th in Information & Technology Management; and 33rd in Public Management Administration.”

I’ve had the great honor to work with these folks a bit. I have not reviewed the piece yet, but I’d be floored if the work weren’t ready for the severe reviews undertaken by the most stringent of research journals. These folks cannot even dream of risking their extremely strong professional reputations.

In short, as Mary Beth would be among the first to admit, this is but one study. But the data are the data if it’s coming out of this group. She and her faculty would also be among the first to argue that one study should not dictate a policy decision.

But it surely should begin a discussion. Sadly, there are many more than those above who have and will continue to refuse to be confused by the facts. Another recent example of that is the recent attention to Finnish schools – the reaction here? “Oh, that would never work here.”

Atlanta Mom

March 1st, 2012
10:09 pm

Has anyone looked at the HS pregnancy rates?

Hillbilly D

March 1st, 2012
10:12 pm

Given the huge number of households with 2 parents working or single parent households with one person working, where are the kids going to go on Day 5? That may not be what schools are supposed to be for but it creates a logistical problem for a large segment of the population.

Atlanta Mom

March 1st, 2012
10:17 pm

Homeschooler,
You state : We already know that on-line and part-time highschools work.
Do you have a study that supports that statement? I’m interested because my child took algebra on line. Blew the course out of the water. But……..two years later she said she couldn’t remember anything she learned in the class. She’s a physics major now, so it’s not like she had any kind of “math block”. But, if she didn’t have a good experiance with on line algebra, I imagine lots of other kids are going to have a BAD experiance.

Atlanta Mom

March 1st, 2012
10:18 pm

experience. duh

Hillbilly D

March 1st, 2012
10:19 pm

I got moderated?

ScienceTeacher671

March 1st, 2012
10:23 pm

At the alternative school in our county, all the courses are online. The kids can take and retake the assessments until their grades are very good. At the end of the term, they take the EOCTs and fail them miserably.

ScienceTeacher671

March 1st, 2012
10:34 pm

oye...

March 1st, 2012
11:11 pm

I’m curious to know if the teen pregnancy rate skyrocketed during this schedule in Colorado. I can only imagine what my high school girlfriend and I would’ve found time to do on friday mornings with no school and no parents around.

Brandy

March 1st, 2012
11:13 pm

I don’t agree or disagree with the findings of this study–four day weeks are common in many other countries. But, I would like to hear more on it since we are constantly hearing that kids lose so much knowledge over their long breaks. 144 days is far less than 180. Is the knowledge loss the same, increased, or lessened with four day weeks?

Megan

March 2nd, 2012
1:31 am

How does this prepare the kids for a 5 day work week one day?

Bernie

March 2nd, 2012
2:25 am

Putting aside this study, one must certainly consider the serious financial cost to the Business community and the ecoonmic cost of lost wages and decreased tax revenue and not to mention the added expense for parental child supervision.

No one here, has mentioned or stated above in the draft study the the cost of having thousands of primary and secondary students home alone unsupervised because MOM and or DAD has to work.

The youth crime rate would explode before our very eyes. This ludicrious draft study plan as stated above would be a bonanza for gang recruitment and crimminal activity that would exceed all norms, as we know it. I can see it now, Gangs of youths hanging out in the MALLS, increased incidents of shoptlifting, increased teen pregnacies, increased neighborhood burgularies, assaults, rapes, increased drug and gun related crimes. Those are just a few of the many ills, we would be forced to deal with as an emergency priority with many already under staff local police departments.

I would agree in principle, this proposed study DRAFT is merely and only a “START FOR DISCUSSION”, but we are light years away from even considering its real time application. To actually move forward with such a decision in our current economic state or 5 years from now, would be economic suicide. One must truly question the real reason behind the promotion of such a study. who really benefits and loses and at what costs. Just the issues mentioned above is enough to say, go back to your research and provide more data to support your findings to make this a more viable consideration. You cannot say on one hand this is what works, without the consideration of all of the other issues as a result.

Come on people, Think! Is this proposed draft study change really worth its economic cost as stated above? There are many more issues that must be studied, discussed, planned, considered, resolved, and evaluated before this proposed draft study can be remotely considered as a workable solution.

To me this proposed draft study seems to be akin to another whacky idea from the Karen Handel school of PUBLIC POLICY. Surely, this not the intent of its authors.

ScienceTeacher671

March 2nd, 2012
6:03 am

According to the part of the study I read, most of the schools were in very small, very rural districts where many of the students had long commute times, and perhaps a large number of the parents were farmers, so that there would be someone home on the Fridays or Mondays school wasn’t in session.

Maureen Downey

March 2nd, 2012
7:49 am

@Science, Not sure from study if they are farmers, but the districts were rural. Most of the Georgia districts that have gone to four-days are also rural. The question I have is where those kids are on Fridays. I think a lot of their parents are in jobs outside the home so I wonder about child care options in rural areas.
Maureen

Atlanta Mom

March 2nd, 2012
8:08 am

Megan,
This prepares kids for a five day work week the same way college does.

Shar

March 2nd, 2012
8:29 am

It seems to me that this would be a good opportunity for a charter school to experiment with.

@Bernie et al: Parents have to cope with kids home all through the summer. There would be adjustments to be made, but nothing that working parents don’t have to deal with already.

GeeMac

March 2nd, 2012
8:54 am

I think 4 day school weeks are an idea at least worth exploring, especially if teachers could use the 5th day for data analysis, planning, professional development, etc. Perhaps students who are struggling could receive tutoring on that day? And as another posted suggested, the same programs that offer care in the summer could step up and offer services on the “off” day.

Beverly Fraud

March 2nd, 2012
9:58 am

“Her study offers a surprising conclusion: The adoption a four-day school week had a positive and often statistically significant relationship with performance in both reading and mathematics.”I

I must say I’m NOT surprised. Sometimes less really is more. We constantly overschedule children, then act SHOCKED when it reaches a point of diminishing returns.

big picture

March 2nd, 2012
10:40 am

I was in one of the rural CO districts that switched to 4 day weeks when I was in middle school back in the 1980s. Several reasons for the shifts made it a reasonable and appreciated move. First, particularly in rural areas, when sports teams or academic teams would travel, frequently it would take 2-3 hours to get to their place of competition. As a result, Fridays were frequently “wasted” days anyway, as most of a school’s population would be out as a result. Moving to a four day week allowed the teams to continue to travel on Fridays without cutting into instructional time. This, in part, should address the comments above concerned with what student’s did with their time on Fridays….they generally were involved in school activities. Many clubs and arts activities also were expanded on Fridays, so the students inevitably were involved in the schools 5 days a week.

On the other hand, for many students, Fridays provided (for high school students in particular) the opportunity to work part time and get out of school, real world experiences. Many students assisted on their farms, in family businesses, or simply had jobs.

Admittedly, my county district was quite small, a K-12 school that covered the entire county. But, it was never an issue for us or any of the families that I know of. This was a community school, and as such, the school served very much as a core institution for the community.

In terms of school days, Maureen is correct. The state of CO founds time in school requirements on hours, not days. As long as i can remember, we went to school from 8-4. Again, in a rural district one has to account for bus routes, and for some kids, this still required leaving for school around 6-6:30am. We had plenty of time for lunch and breaks in between.

So, this is a bit of picture, historically, from the districts where the data were taken from.

From a policy standpoint, I do wonder what the impact of the four day school week would be in an urban area. I hope that districts think carefully about the Why’s of considering 4 day weeks (beyond of course a perceived savings) before changing policies. Indeed, in our rural setting, this was a perfect use of time. Parent’s supported the 4 day week. I am not sure how much savings was there, since as far as I can recall, the school was always open on Friday’s anyway.

Just my two cents.

big picture

March 2nd, 2012
10:47 am

PS. The community saw no spike in crime or huge increase over prior years in teen pregnancies. Ultimately, academics became the focus during the 4 day week and extra curricular activities covered the Fridays. There were not too many kids who weren’t involved in something on that day. No increased vandalism or loitering on public properties (we didn’t have malls), and what was done was usually watched over by adults. Everyone knew everyone’s kids.

Again, though, don’t know that this would work in an urban setting, for these very reasons…

SoGAVet

March 2nd, 2012
11:40 am

So to follow up from a post the other day, maybe this idea is worthy of a charter and/or other study in Georgia to see if the results can be replicated.

This is what’s wrong with education – one snippet of positive data and the bandwagon gets jumped on by everyone looking for something new and different to do.

Oh by the way, I am aware that Colorado has undergone some updating of its curriculum (in Social Studies it was abysmal) – so I wonder if this is another variable in the experiment that must be considered.

And for the record, I think we should reinstitute recess for elementary kids.

Bernie

March 2nd, 2012
12:15 pm

Shar, there is a big difference between having to cope with those child care supervison issues over a 700day period during the summer break versus having that expense year round. There is no such thing as a free lunch, even in education.

lyncoln

March 2nd, 2012
12:17 pm

-tongue in cheek -

But but but we can’t compare Colorado to Georgia! The demographics are totally different! Why, they’ve only got 5 million people in the whole state. Georgia as almost double that at 9 million. Even Metro Atlanta has more people than Colorado. How can we compare such a small population and what might work with them to our big population in Georgia?!

And don’t even get started on racial issues. Colorado is over 80% white with only 4% African American population. Compare that with Georgia at 60% white and 30% African American. There’s no way that systems that work with just a homogenous population like Colorado could work in the diverse populations of Georgia.

- end tongue in cheek -

That’s an interesting study. I think it would be worthwhile to consider for many school systems.

As for comments about the work week, my job allows for flexible scheduling. As long as you are available for at least 2 hours each day M-F, you can do the rest of your project work on any particular schedule you like, just make the hours add up to 80 by the end of the bi-week. Or you can work 10 hour days and take every Friday off. Or 9 hour days and take every other Friday off. We haven’t had difficulties with loss of productivity even with people working from home full time or from out of state. I think it’s a mistake to believe that the only way for people to learn/be productive is 8 hours a day 5 days a week. How many times have people pointed out that one size doesn’t fit all? The same can be applied to work schedules and learning schedules.

Sandy Springs Parent

March 2nd, 2012
12:44 pm

I know my kids would love it. My high school daughter would work at her Nanny Job that she has during the summer, and sometimes after school. The lady she works for would just have her come on Fridays and watch the boys and take them to their activities from 8-6. It would give my daughter and extra $80-100 a week. That she could put towards college, gas and her pocket money. It would save me from having to give her gas money and running around money. It also gives her time to go to private Tumbling lessons that are only held before 3:00, she takes the boys with her. They have fun watching her. It would also give them more baseball and ninja practice time.

My other daughter, needs that extra day for a break. She gets worn out going 5 days a week and shuts down. It would give us time to go to her medical appointments without taking a day or part of a day off from school. It would allow for more sleepovers with her friend that don’t interfere with her friends Church Schedule. Plus she wouldn’t be exhausted for 8:00 basketball practice on Friday nights.

I love my kids, I want them around. They could be educated in a much more streamlined basis if we got rid of this politically correct inclusion policy. Lets face it so many of these Special Ed students have no place in a Regular Class. Even Regular Ed students need to be seperated by IQ and real tests scores such as ITBS. My child that scores a 99% on the Math ITBS should not be in the same Math class as kids that only get 20-40 on the ITBS. My daughter tells me all of the time when they give back the scores, she doesn’t understand how anyone can score that low. Then she tells me that those kids are so far behind and take up all the class time. She fakes being sick all of the time because she is sooooo bored. So please go to 4 day weeks.

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Rocco Fuschetto

March 2nd, 2012
3:58 pm

Most of the four day are in rural areas and small communities. Many have gone to four day to reduce budget but the only people that get hurt are the cooks and bus drivers since their pay is reduced even more considering that they do not make much per hour anyway. Many districts are re-evaluating it to go back to a regular five day week. In rural areas there aren’t many opportunities for students to get in trouble as in big cities. Energy will not be saved since the buildings are still open on Fridays for different activities.

catlady

March 2nd, 2012
5:33 pm

How funny that Cobb Co thinks that teachers at schools like Osborne need additional help (their fault–not ready to teach) INSTEAD of that the school is out of control (students’/administrators’ faults)!

East Cobb Parent

March 2nd, 2012
6:02 pm

@ Atlanta Mom you didn’t mention where your daughter took her on-line math course. My daughter is currently taking two online courses, one via GA Virtual School and one via John Hopkins. No comparison, lots of busy work in the GVS course – spends much more time and receives very little instruction. John Hopkins is a very different experience and she is learning the material. Not sure what she is learning via GVS, but she doesn’t want to take another course through them. For fairness the GVS is PE and John Hopkins Geometry. Having said that, my son loves online courses and does better with them than my daughter. My daughter hopes to never take another online course, prefers the teacher/classroom interaction.

There are SACS accredited schools that offer instruction 2-4 days a week. Some students do very well, others need the five day week instruction. Also, several charters – Addison and Walton for two – have 4.5 days with one day weekly an early release.

East Cobb Parent

March 2nd, 2012
6:03 pm

@ catlady, please understand that is the central office, super and some board members, not the thoughts of the residents of Cobb :-)

Cobb Mom of 4

March 2nd, 2012
6:05 pm

The kids that will benefit from this are the ones where the parents are already engaged and involved in the school and their child. The children that are from a bad home environment will probably suffer, spending more time at a home that is already lacking educational support. While it isn’t supposed to be, school is a safe-haven for many of these children…they should probably be there 6 days a week, not 4.

Some communities will benefit and others won’t. There is no one size fit all and we need to stop trying to turn out widgets, and instead provide the flexibility that is needed to produce educated, balanced and motivated students.

ScienceTeacher671

March 2nd, 2012
7:27 pm

Maureen, they said on page 13 of the study that “the four-day-week schedule is implemented in rural areas and sparsely populated school districts” in Colorado. Then on page 15, they note that “a shortened school week could increase the expense of childcare arrangements, so that this schedule could appeal more to parents who are relatively less burdened by childcare costs,” with a footnote stating that “Higher income households, families with a stay-at-home parent, or farm and ranch households may find the four day-week schedule appealing.”

As you say, childcare can be difficult in rural, sparsely populated areas, but so can finding a job, especially if you are relatively unskilled. Childcare and transportation expenses can easily eat up all your earnings.

Since the communities involved seem happy with their 4-day schedules, my conclusion (which could be wrong) is that the majority of families in those areas are either farming/ranching families or otherwise have at least one adult at home.

WillSankey

March 2nd, 2012
9:38 pm

A couple years ago Hawaii did furlough Fridays and most teachers I knew called it independent study day. I saw good results and statewide test scores went up. Not the surest example of cause and effect but it worth a further look. After all teaching is my 2nd career and in the private sector I did countless hours of work independently to make my deadlines.

CA

March 2nd, 2012
10:02 pm

Ole Guy: Instead of playing on your antiquated emotions, can you prove that the four day school week does not improve scores?