We have updated this piece on the four-day school week, originally published on June 5, 2018, to include new figures, research and other information
School district leaders across the U.S. are discussing switching to a four-day week in hopes it will help them save money, recruit teachers and prevent the ones they have from burning out and quitting.
Over the past decade, hundreds of small, rural schools facing teacher shortages have adopted four-day schedules to draw educators to remote areas where salaries tend to be lower. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials at schools of all sizes are debating the change.
Earlier this month, the schools superintendent in Hillsborough County, Florida — one of the nation’s largest school districts — said it’s worth considering. This academic year, 27 districts in Texas moved to a four-day week.
More than 1,600 schools in 650 school districts were using the schedule as of the 2018-19 academic year, the most recent year for which data is available, according to a 2022 study published in the Economics of Education Review.
Brent Maddin, executive director of the Next Education Workforce project at Arizona State University, told The New York Times the pandemic has made many teachers feel more undervalued.
“If we’re serious about recruiting people into the profession, and retaining people in the profession, in addition to things like compensation we need to be focused on the working conditions,” Maddin told the Times.
Scholars are still trying to understand the impact of cutting school schedules by one day a week — usually a Monday or Friday, so educators and students have three-day weekends. The research to date, much of which focuses on how the change affects student achievement and behavior, offers mixed results.
Among the key takeaways so far:
- Although school administrators typically try to make up for the lost day of learning by adding time to the remaining four school days, schools vary in terms of how they use that additional time per day.
- Studies of the four-day week generally focus on a limited number of schools or schools in certain states. Unless researchers use a nationally representative sample, findings cannot be generalized to all U.S. schools on a four-day schedule.
- A 2022 study that looks at four-day school schedules in 12 states reveals that student test scores in math and language arts fell slightly at schools operating an average of 29.95 hours per week. Test scores did not change at schools operating 31.03 hours or more during their four-day weeks, on average.
Below, we spotlight a sampling of the academic research examining the issue. We will update this collection periodically.
Effects of 4-Day School Weeks on Older Adolescents: Examining Impacts of the Schedule on Academic Achievement, Attendance, and Behavior in High School
Emily Morton. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, June 2022.
Summary: Oklahoma high schools saw less fighting and bullying among students after switching from a five-day-a-week schedule to a four-day schedule, this study finds. Fighting declined by 0.79 incidents per 100 students and bullying dropped by 0.65 incidents per 100 students.
The other types of student discipline problems examined, including weapons possession, vandalism and truancy, did not change, according to the analysis, based on a variety of student and school data collected through 2019 from the Oklahoma State Department of Education and National Center for Education Statistics.
“Results indicate that 4-day school weeks decrease per-pupil bullying incidents by approximately 39% and per-pupil fighting incidents by approximately 31%,” writes the author, Emily Morton, a research scientist at NWEA, a nonprofit research organization formerly known as the Northwest Evaluation Association.
Morton did not investigate what caused the reduction in bullying and fighting. She did find that moving to a four-day schedule had “no detectable effect” on high school attendance or student scores on the ACT college-entrance exam.
Only a Matter of Time? The Role of Time in School on Four-Day School Week Achievement Impacts
Paul N. Thompson and Jason Ward. Economics of Education Review, February 2022.
Summary: Student test scores in math and language arts dipped at some schools that adopted a four-day schedule but did not change at others, according to this analysis of school schedule switches in 12 states.
Researchers discovered “small reductions” in test scores for students in grades 3 through 8 at schools offering what the researchers call “low time in school.” These schools operate an average of 29.95 hours during the four-day week. The decline in test scores is described in terms of standard deviation, not units of measurement such as points or percentages.
At schools offering “middle time in school” — an average of 31.03 hours over four days — test scores among kids in grades 3 through 8 did not change, write the researchers, Paul N. Thompson, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University, and Jason Ward, an associate economist at the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research organization.
Scores also did not change at schools providing “high time in school,” or 32.14 hours over a four-day school week, on average.
When describing this paper’s findings, it’s inaccurate to say researchers found that test scores dropped as a result of schools adopting a four-day schedule. It is correct to say test scores dropped, on average, across the schools the researchers studied. But it’s worth noting the relationship between test scores and the four-day school week differs according to the average number of hours those schools operate each week.
For this analysis, researchers examined school districts in states that allowed four-day school weeks during the 2008-2009 academic year through the 2017-2018 academic years. They chose to focus on the 12 states where four-day school weeks were most common. The data they used came from the Stanford Educational Data Archive and “a proprietary, longitudinal, national database” that tracked the use of four-day school weeks from 2009 to 2018.
The researchers write that their findings “suggest that four-day school weeks that operate with adequate levels of time in school have no clear negative effect on achievement and, instead, that it is operating four-day school weeks in a low-time-in-school environment that should be cautioned against.”
“Three Midwest Rural School Districts’ First Year Transition to the Four Day School Week”
Jon Turner, Kim Finch and Ximena Uribe-Zarain. The Rural Educator, 2019.
Abstract: “The four-day school week is a concept that has been utilized in rural schools for decades to respond to budgetary shortfalls. There has been little peer-reviewed research on the four-day school week that has focused on the perception of parents who live in school districts that have recently switched to the four-day model. This study collects data from 584 parents in three rural Missouri school districts that have transitioned to the four-day school week within the last year. Quantitative statistical analysis identifies significant differences in the perceptions of parents classified by the age of children, special education identification, and free and reduced lunch status. Strong parental support for the four-day school week was identified in all demographic areas investigated; however, families with only elementary aged children and families with students receiving special education services were less supportive than other groups.”
“Juvenile Crime and the Four-Day School Week”
Stefanie Fischer and Daniel Argyle. Economics of Education Review, 2018.
Abstract: “We leverage the adoption of a four-day school week across schools within the jurisdiction of rural law enforcement agencies in Colorado to examine the causal link between school attendance and youth crime. Those affected by the policy attend school for the same number of hours each week as students on a typical five-day week; however, treated students do not attend school on Friday. This policy allows us to learn about two aspects of the school-crime relationship that have previously been unstudied: one, the effects of a frequent and permanent schedule change on short-term crime, and two, the impact that school attendance has on youth crime in rural areas. Our difference-in-difference estimates show that following policy adoption, agencies containing students on a four-day week experience about a 20 percent increase in juvenile criminal offenses, where the strongest effect is observed for property crime.”
“Staff Perspectives of the Four-Day School Week: A New Analysis of Compressed School Schedules”
Jon Turner, Kim Finch and Ximena Uribe–Zarian. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 2018.
Abstract: “The four-day school week is a concept that has been utilized in rural schools for decades to respond to budgetary shortfalls. There has been little peer-reviewed research on the four-day school week that has focused on the perception of staff that work in school districts that have recently switched to the four-day model. This study collects data from 136 faculty and staff members in three rural Missouri school districts that have transitioned to the four-day school week within the last year. Quantitative statistical analysis identifies strong support of the four-day school week model from both certified educational staff and classified support staff perspectives. All staff responded that the calendar change had improved staff morale, and certified staff responded that the four-day week had a positive impact on what is taught in classrooms and had increased academic quality. Qualitative analysis identifies staff suggestions for schools implementing the four-day school week including the importance of community outreach prior to implementation. No significant differences were identified between certified and classified staff perspectives. Strong staff support for the four-day school week was identified in all demographic areas investigated. Findings support conclusions made in research in business and government sectors that identify strong employee support of a compressed workweek across all work categories.”
“The Economics of a Four-Day School Week: Community and Business Leaders’ Perspectives”
Jon Turner, Kim Finch and Ximena Uribe–Zarian. Journal of Education and Training Studies, 2018.
Abstract: “The four-day school week is a concept that has been utilized in rural schools in the United States for decades and the number of schools moving to the four-day school week is growing. In many rural communities, the school district is the largest regional employer which provides a region with permanent, high paying jobs that support the local economy. This study collects data from 71 community and business leaders in three rural school districts that have transitioned to the four-day school week within the last year. Quantitative statistical analysis is used to investigate the perceptions of community and business leaders related to the economic impact upon their businesses and the community and the impact the four-day school week has had upon perception of quality of the school district. Significant differences were identified between community/business leaders that currently have no children in school as compared to community/business leaders with children currently enrolled in four-day school week schools. Overall, community/business leaders were evenly divided concerning the economic impact on their businesses and the community. Community/business leaders’ perceptions of the impact the four-day school week was also evenly divided concerning the impact on the quality of the school district. Slightly more negative opinions were identified related to the economic impact on the profitability of their personal businesses which may impact considerations by school leaders. Overall, community/business leaders were evenly divided when asked if they would prefer their school district return to the traditional five-day week school calendar.”
“Impact of a 4-Day School Week on Student Academic Performance, Food Insecurity, and Youth Crime”
Report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s Office of Partner Engagement, 2017.
Summary: “A Health Impact Assessment (HIA) utilizes a variety of data sources and analytic methods to evaluate the consequences of proposed or implemented policy on health. A rapid (HIA) was chosen to research the impact of the four-day school week on youth. The shift to a four-day school week was a strategy employed by many school districts in Oklahoma to address an $878 million budget shortfall, subsequent budget cuts, and teacher shortages. The HIA aimed to assess the impact of the four-day school week on student academic performance, food insecurity, and juvenile crime … An extensive review of literature and stakeholder engagement on these topic areas was mostly inconclusive or did not reveal any clear-cut evidence to identify effects of the four-day school week on student outcomes — academic performance, food insecurity or juvenile crime. Moreover, there are many published articles about the pros and cons of the four-day school week, but a lack of comprehensive research is available on the practice.”
“Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week”
D. Mark Anderson and Mary Beth Walker. Education Finance and Policy, 2015.
Abstract: “School districts use a variety of policies to close budget gaps and stave off teacher layoffs and furloughs. More schools are implementing four-day school weeks to reduce overhead and transportation costs. The four-day week requires substantial schedule changes as schools must increase the length of their school day to meet minimum instructional hour requirements. Although some schools have indicated this policy eases financial pressures, it is unknown whether there is an impact on student outcomes. We use school-level data from Colorado to investigate the relationship between the four-day week and academic performance among elementary school students. Our results generally indicate a positive relationship between the four-day week and performance in reading and mathematics. These findings suggest there is little evidence that moving to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement. This research has policy relevance to the current U.S. education system, where many school districts must cut costs.”
- The State of the American Teacher project offers insights into how teachers feel about their jobs and the education field as a whole. In early 2022, RAND Corp. surveyed a nationally representative sample of teachers, asking questions on topics such as job-related stress, school safety, COVID-19 mitigation policies and career plans. Survey results show that 56% of teachers who answered a question about their attitude toward their job “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed with the statement, “The stress and disappointments involved in teaching aren’t really worth it.” Meanwhile, 78% “strongly” or “somewhat” agreed with the statement, “I don’t seem to have as much enthusiasm now as I did when I began teaching.”
- Opinions about the four-day school week vary among school board members, district-level administrators, school principals and teachers. These organizations can provide insights: the Schools Superintendents Association, National School Boards Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals.
- A 2018 report from the Education Commission of the States offers a 50-state comparison of students’ instructional time requirements. For example, students in Colorado are required to be in school for a minimum of 160 days a year while in Vermont, the minimum is 175 days and in Alabama, it’s 180.
Looking for more research on public schools? Check out our other collections of research on student lunches, school uniforms, teacher salaries and teacher misconduct.