Our Evidence Blast series provides research, data, and resources to help practitioners and policymakers make important decisions about schools and students.
This June, Education Northwest (EdNW) celebrates 47 years of linking practitioners, policymakers, and families to the research and resources they need to improve teaching and learning. One way we do this is through our Ask A REL Reference Desk, which is part of our REL Northwest project. Ask A REL provides authoritative, timely, and tailored research, data, and policy information—at no charge—to Northwest educators, policymakers, and community members.
A frequent request to Ask A REL is for research on the four-day school week. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have districts operating on a four-day schedule. Many are smaller and more rural districts in states such as Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Wyoming. Other states, like Alaska, are considering legislation to pilot or allow four-day programs. Schools that operate on a four-day schedule typically shorten the school week by eliminating either Monday or Friday and add more time to each day to provide the same number of instructional hours as a traditional five-day week.
Although districts consider moving to a four-day school week for many reasons, such as to provide time for professional development or to meet family needs for medical appointments, the impetus is often to reduce costs with minimal impacts to instruction. Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme of the Teton (ID) School District 401 is one of many educators who have requested research on the four-day school week. “The big motivation in Idaho is cost savings, as the state continues to reduce funding and local communities are faced with dramatic budget cuts in staff, salaries, and programs or raising funds through local property tax levies,” he reports. “Many districts are adjusting their schedules and calendars to make their limited budgets work.”
With the research from Ask A REL in hand, the Teton School District posted a survey for community members to weigh in on changing to a four-day week, conducted informational and public comment meetings, and looked at how other districts in Idaho were implementing the schedule. Ultimately the board voted to remain with the five-day week and explore other options for making budget cuts. (For more about Teton, read this article from the Teton Valley News).
What does the research say?
Can a four-day school week provide any real cost savings? How does it impact achievement? And what are advantages and disadvantages when considering issues such as child care or length of school day?
There’s a paucity of research on the four-day school week, although a few studies have been published recently. Many of these examine Colorado schools—over a third of districts there are on the four-day schedule—and their findings vary. Three separate studies comparing schools in Colorado on the four-day schedule to those on the five-day schedule, found somewhat differing results: one found four-day students had some academic gains, one saw no difference between four- and five-day schedules, and the third found that five-day schedules had slightly better(although not statistically significant) academic results in some areas.
Most of the researchers caution that because of the inconclusive results, decisions to change schedules should not be based on test scores but on other stakeholder concerns. Indeed, although educators and policymakers are seeking definitive data on the four-day school week, they’re just as concerned with how a policy or practice works. Usually this includes a balancing act among cost, public sentiment, staff, administrator and board support, and a variety of collateral benefits and deficits, as Teton’s experience illustrates.
Savings vary greatly district to district as well due to differing operating costs, transportation costs, and a host of other unique considerations. The Education Commission of the States (ECS) examined financial data from six school districts that made the switch and found that they only achieved .4 to 2.5 percent savings, probably because each district still used the school building on the fifth day of the week for extracurricular activities or staff development. One school district superintendent interviewed by ECS said that even though the savings were small, it was enough to justify the shorter schedule.
Below is a sampling of recent publicly available research and policy reviews on the four-day school week. For customized literature searches on this or other topics that include searching peer-reviewed research, please contact Jennifer Klump, Ask A REL Reference Desk librarian.
This Andrew Young School of Policy Studies report uses school-level longitudinal data from the state of Colorado to investigate the relationship between the four-day school week and academic performance among elementary school students. Results provide some evidence that in these rural and smaller districts, mathematics and reading achievement scores in elementary schools actually improve following the schedule change. The data however do not indicate which factors most impact student performance.
This Indiana University, Center for Evaluation and Education Policy Center brief discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the four-day school week, the steps a school might take to make the switch, and recommendations for districts considering the change. Exam¬ples of districts that have made the switch are included. The brief also reviews previous research that says there is no strong evidence that the four-day week has either a positive or negative effect on student achievement.
This review from the University of Southern Maine Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation discusses four areas of impact: financial savings, student achievement, other student and teacher outcomes, and stakeholder satisfaction. It also discusses challenges to implementation of the four-day school week 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.
The Evidence Blast is just one way Education Northwest (EdNW) provides research-based information to our region. Since our inception, EdNW has been transforming research into practical tools educators and policymakers can use to improve teaching and learning. In addition to helping clients collect and interpret meaningful data, we provide evidence-based answers to questions about practice and policy through our free Ask A REL service. Sign up to receive additional education research blasts and other news from EdNW