Education Northwest

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the Research Says (and Doesn't Say): The Four-Day School Week

By Jennifer Klump

The Education Northwest Reference Desk responds to requests for the latest research on a variety of topics of concern to educators in our region. This past year, we have received numerous inquiries regarding the four-day school week schedule. As schools are responding to the economic crisis, they are looking for ways to reduce costs. Although cost savings is the primary reason for considering a four-day school week, educators are concerned about the effect of the shortened school week on student achievement and request statistically controlled studies on the schedule's impact. Unfortunately, our review of the research found only a few evaluations, none of which included a control for variables, which makes it impossible to know if apparent changes in achievement are a result of the schedule change or other factors. Other reviewers note a similar lack of evidence: "It is important to note that while there is considerable anecdotal information about the potential benefits of four-day school weeks, there is limited systematic research on the impacts of this reform" (Donis-Keller & Silvernail, 2009).

For updated information on this topic or other research inquiries, contact Jennifer Klump at Education Northwest’s Reference Desk, jennifer.klump@educationnorthest.org or 503.275.0454.

Summaries of Research and Other Resources

Beesley, A.D., & Anderson, C. (2007). The four day school week: Information and recommendations. The Rural Educator, 29(10), 48–55.

This comprehensive overview discusses the issues regarding the four-day school week, based on a limited number of studies and anecdotal reports from teachers and students. The authors provide a useful table of pros and cons. Some of the key pros listed are increased attendance, increased planning time for teachers, and some reported savings on utility, transportation, and food costs (although other districts did not report any savings). The authors also provide recommendations for districts who are considering implementing the four-day school week.

For additional information contact RELCentral@mcrel.org.

Donis-Keller, C., & Silvernail, D.L. (2009). Research brief: A review of the evidence on the four-day school week. Portland, ME: Center for Education Policy, Applied Research and Evaluation, University of Southern Maine. Retrieved October 15, 2009, from: http://www2.umaine.edu/mepri/sites/default/files/CEPARE%20Brief%20on%20the%204-day%20school%20week%202.10.pdf

This is the most recent and detailed review we found in our search. It discusses the various models of four-day weeks used in several districts. The authors state clearly that "As noted by many observers, the literature that exists on the four-day school week is mainly positive, but not often peer-reviewed or scientifically based, and few summaries of this literature provide any critical analysis of the results" (p. 5). The article discusses the four areas of impact: financial savings, student achievement, other student and teacher outcomes, and stakeholder satisfaction. It also discusses challenges to implementation such as child care, student fatigue, contact hours, shifts in costs, and meeting state law requirements for instructional hours. The authors conclude that districts using the schedule have support from the public, either no impact or a positive impact on academic performance, and some financial savings. However, they also caution that "savings must be weighed against an increased length of the school day, child-care needs on the off-day, and professional development needs" for teachers (p. 12).

Evaluations of the Four-Day School Week

Nelson, S. (1983). An evaluation of Sheridan County School District alternative school schedule, 1982–83. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No ED236210).

Abstract from ERIC:

During the 1982–83 school year, the Sheridan County School District implemented a 4-day school week alternative schedule. The alternative schedule was approved by the Wyoming State Board of Education on two conditions. First, the state attorney general must affirm the state board's right to permit alternative scheduling. Second, an outside evaluation of the approach must be made. The services of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory were contracted by the district to plan and conduct an impartial evaluation. The overall purpose of the evaluation was to provide information which would be of value in weighing the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative schedule. The most apparent effect of the four-day schedule was the generation of interest, enthusiasm, and support for quality schooling on the part of all segments of the educational community—parents, teachers, students, and administrators. While the findings hint at benefits to be realized from the Sheridan plan, neither positive nor negative outcomes in student achievement could be shown. The community impact was split: Most parents saw Fridays as positive opportunities for family activities, but families where both parents were working and the children were of elementary age viewed the four-day week negatively.

Sagness, R.L., & Saltzman, S.A. (1993). Evaluation of the four- day school week in Idaho suburban schools. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Northern Rocky Mountain Educational Research Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED362995).

Abstract from ERIC:

Findings of a study that investigated the impact of a 4-day school week in an Idaho suburban school district (Shelley School District) are presented in this paper. Data were derived from: (1) surveys of all district stakeholders, which included 2,039 K–12 students, 492 parents, 103 teachers, and 85 support staff; (2) a comparison of student-achievement scores with previous years; (3) classroom observations of engaged time; (4) an analysis of student, teacher, and staff absenteeism data; and (5) cost-factor analyses. Findings indicate that student achievement increased at some grade levels, and at other grade levels it was comparable to achievement for previous years. Other outcomes included high levels of student on-task behaviors, less disruption of instructional time, sustained student engagement, a decrease in employee and student absenteeism, and an approximate 1.6 percent savings in the district budget. However, the district abandoned the 4-day week after one year of implementation. Abandonment of the 4-day week is attributed to the district's lack of the following key elements of systematic change: vision, public and political support, cooperative networks, attention to teachers and learning, clearly defined administrative roles and responsibilities, and policy alignment. Two tables are included.

For more current information about the four-day school week in Idaho, including a list of Idaho schools using the schedule and data on average daily attendance and graduation rates, visit the rural education page on the Idaho Department of Education Web site, http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/ruraleducation/

Colorado Department of Education (2006). The 4 day school week. Denver, CO: Author. Retrieved October 18, 2009, from
http://www.cde.state.co.us/cdeedserv/download/pdf/4dayweek06.pdf

The Colorado Department of Education provides an overview of districts in Colorado using the four-day school week schedule. It is primarily based on employee observations, interviews, and site visits. As of 2006, 34 percent of Colorado districts use the four-day schedule. “The districts schedule 7.5 hours per day for 144 days, instead of the normal six hours for 180 days.” Most districts do not have school on Fridays. In general, practitioners feel that the overall impact on instruction is positive in that there are fewer disruptions to instructional time with this schedule. Although fatigue is a concern regarding younger students, no specifics are mentioned in the report. There is no data regarding student performance as it is difficult to control for all variables involved in impact on achievement. According to the study, “Few, if any, districts have changed from five to four days with the expressed purpose of improving student achievement.”