Switch to four-day school week slows learning

Harm recedes after a return to full-time schedule

Cambridge, Massachusetts, May 04, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Students earn lower math and reading scores on standardized tests after their schools switch to a four-day school week, Paul Thompson of Oregon State University reports in a new article for Education Next. As schools across the country grapple with a return to in-person schooling amid pandemic-induced learning loss, the findings offer a cautionary tale—but also reason for hope.

Nationwide, even before the pandemic, some 1,600 schools adopted four-day schedules, most often to cut costs. While these schools extend instructional time during the four days they are open, students still lose about three to four hours of instruction every week compared to students on a five-day schedule. Four-day schools average 148 school days a year, well below the 175-180 average typically provided by a traditional weekly schedule.

“Teachers, students, and families have now experienced radi­cally different learning schedules due to school closures and broad adoption of hybrid schedules, which mimic the part-time nature of the four-day school week. That may stoke interest in a four-day schedule and put pressure on local school boards to consider it. These findings suggest that they proceed with caution,” Thompson writes.

Among the key findings:

  • Student achievement. Students earn lower math and reading scores on standardized tests after their schools switch to a four-day schedule. Overall losses are equivalent to nearly one-third the size of the impact of having a larger class size, and equal to losing 40 minutes of reading instruction and about an hour of math instruction each week. The negative effects in math are most prominent in 7th and 8th grades.
  • Trends over time. The negative impacts of a four-day schedule grow over time. Four years after switching to shorter school weeks, math and reading scores fall by 8.8 percent and 10.4 percent of a standard deviation, respectively. The lasting impacts of the four-day week are minimal for schools that eventually switch back to a five-day schedule.

Thompson studied the academic performance in reading and math of nearly 700,000 students in Oregon—where approximately one in 10 schools follow a four-day schedule—over a 15-year period. He compared changes in student achievement in districts that shifted from a five-day to a four-day week to achievement changes in districts that did not make the shift.

About the Author: Paul N. Thompson is associate professor of eco­nomics at Oregon State University and a research affiliate at the Institute for Labor Economics.

About Education Next: Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit educationnext.org.


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