The Short of It
A new study published in the journal Education, Finance and Policy found that a four-day school week actually boosted kids' test scores in math, despite the extra hours added to those four school days to compensate for a three-day weekend.
Four-day school weeks are common in many parts of the country as a way to cut costs. Researchers D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University and Mary Beth Walker of Georgia State University wanted to see if a four-day week affected students' academic performance. Using the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) test scores, they compared the reading and math performance of fourth and fifth graders in shorter-week schools against those of students attending traditional 5-day school. And the results point to the benefit of a shorter week! Specifically, the students in school four days a week had better scores in math, and reading scores were not affected.
"What interested me about our results is they were completely opposite to what we anticipated," said Walker. "We thought that especially for the younger, elementary school kids, longer days on a shorter school week would hurt their academic performance because their attention spans are shorter. Also, a longer weekend would give them more opportunity to forget what they had learned."
The researchers can't draw definite conclusions as to why the four-day week imporved academic performace, but they suggest myriad reasons—including fewer student and teacher absences, longer days that allow teachers to instruct differently, and teachers who "were so enthusiastic about the four-day week—they did a better job," Walker said.
Let's hear it for the three-day weekend! According to the study, "there is little evidence that moving to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement." The only downside might be for parents—who likely have to find (and pay for!) childcare on that extra day off.