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June 6, 2017

Does a four-day school week sacrifice learning in the interest of a balanced budget? Part II: Academic impact

This week, we revisit our two-part series on the increasingly popular four-day school week. Adopted as a cost-cutting measure in nearly 150 districts across the country, this schedule has been shown to produce limited savings. What are the academic effects of such a change? How does a four-day school week change classroom learning? How might students use their “free” day?

Parents and educators have expressed concerns about the academic viability of a four-day school week in most districts where the switch has been suggested. However, thus far, any evidence of students’ academic performance in four-day districts is limited and mixed. A recent study found evidence of slightly higher scores in mathematics for students on a four-day schedule than those on a five-day schedule , however this is certainly not part of a broader pattern. Just a few years prior, one study found “little difference”  in achievement between the two schedules, while another found slightly higher achievement in students on the five-day schedule. Evidence of any academic benefit or detriment to students is inconclusive at this time and cannot yet be used to make a decision about the use of a four-day schedule.

Academically, we know very little about the effect of a four-day school week. Some proponents suggest, however, that there may be other potential benefits to students and staff from the shift. Absenteeism may be reduced for both students and staff, particularly in rural areas, as the “free” fifth day may be used to schedule appointments that would otherwise create time missed from school. Teachers may be able to use the increased time in the daily schedule to implement new teaching methods, and may use the fifth day for planning and collaboration. Students may use the fifth day for enrichment activities, remediation, or class preparation. Proponents suggest that the four-day week brings benefits to students and teachers by allowing for greater flexibility and creativity with the use of the school day, which may have a positive impact on student learning.

Unfortunately, these potential benefits come with detrimental drawbacks. Teachers and parents both voice the concern that five days of learning may not effectively be consolidated into four. Fewer, longer days may be particularly difficult for younger students who may become fatigued and unfocused by the end of the day. While absenteeism may be reduced, any student who is absent for a single day misses a larger portion of the week’s material than a student who is absent for one day of a five-day schedule. For many districts making this switch, a large portion of the students may be receiving free- and reduced-price lunch and breakfast. By eliminating one day of the school week, schools push the responsibility of providing one or two extra meals onto already struggling families. In some communities with four-day school weeks, food banks have had to step in to fill this gap in students’ nutrition. The extra “free” day created by a four-day calendar also raises the question of how students spend this increased time out of school, and how that may vary across socioeconomic groups. Families with more resources may be more able to pursue enrichment activities for their child, whereas families with fewer resources, already stretched thin, may be required to seek out alternative day care or even leave older children unsupervised. There is some evidence that moving to a four-day school schedule may even increase youth criminality as older students left unsupervised fill their time with illegal activity. Each of these unintended consequences may have long-term impacts on students’ academic achievement that should be considered and accounted for before shifting to a four-day schedule.

We have reached the end of our two-part series on the four-day week. Though the switch continues to gain popularity due to tight budgets, we know very little about its effects on student learning outcomes, particularly regarding longer-term indicators like college attendance and career success. As this schedule gains popularity as a method to cut budgets in districts across the nation, we will almost certainly gain a more conclusive understanding of its implications. As of now, there is little support for the theory of large potential savings, current evidence on academic success is incomplete, and there remain questions of potentially negative implications for students both inside and outside of the classroom.






June 1, 2017

Does a four-day school week sacrifice learning in the interest of a balanced budget? Part I: Slim savings

The four-day schedule is not an entirely novel idea—first used in the 1930s, the system gained popularity in the 1970s as surging oil prices drove districts to seek alternative solutions to cut their growing transportation budgets. More recently, shifts in the definition of instructional time by many states toward instructional hours rather than instructional days has opened the door to the resurgence of the four-day week. This change grants districts the flexibility to implement a calendar with fewer, longer school days, generally adding about 45 minutes on to the end of the school day.

In the wake of the Great Recession, states continue to make deep cuts to education budgets, leaving already struggling communities to find innovative solutions. Today, about 150 districts in 21 states have adopted the calendar. A potential cost saver like the four-day week can be appealing under tight budgetary circumstances, but how much money does a four-day week really save? Does the four-day week hold up as a viable option for districts struggling with tight budgets?

2017-06-01_11-35-57Proponents of the four-day school week foresee significant savings, particularly in the areas of transportation, food service, and building operations. By eliminating these costs from one whole day of the usual five-day school week, districts predict a 20% savings in each area. However, each of these areas individually makes up a relatively small portion of a district’s overall budget. Cutting transportation completely for one day of the week, a commonly indicated source of potential savings in rural districts, leads to only a 0.85% savings to the overall budget.

The largest portion of the budget (approximately 60.82% on average) is dedicated to instruction, primarily made up of teacher salaries and benefits, which are not affected by a move to a four-day schedule. Despite the initial inclination of many proponents, teachers continue to provide the same number of instructional hours and thus receive the same salary and benefits. The largest portion of the budget, then, is not impacted by a shift to a four-day week.

In fact, estimates suggest that a four-day week brings a maximum potential savings of only about 5.43% to the overall district budget. Most districts that have already made the shift have seen much lower savings. A study out of Oklahoma, a state that has been making national headlines for its controversial use of the four-day week, recently found no evidence that districts that switched saved money at all.

While budgetary considerations have been the primary driver of the four-day week’s recent spike in popularity, these suggested savings appear to be unfounded. Despite these limited savings, districts continue to shift to a four-day schedule. What impact might this change have on students and staff? What considerations must districts weigh before making the change? Next week, we will examine the potential academic effects of changing to a four-day week.






August 7, 2013

New York and Others Gain 300 Instructional Hours through TIME Initiative

Time-to-SucceedWhat would you do with 300 additional hours in a year? Would you take up a cross-stitching? Learn to speak Italian? Or, would you recommit to your ill-fated New Year’s resolution to exercise more?

New York’s Rochester Central School District, along with several other districts in Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Tennessee are facing this very opportunity for the 2013-2014 academic year. They are each part of a three-year pilot initiative—to affect over 11,000 students—whose objective is to “boost student achievement and make U.S. schools more competitive on a global level”. The San Francisco Chronicle article highlights how an additional 300 hours in school equates to about 50 additional days of instruction. Just imagine what teachers and students can accomplish with all of that extra instructional time!

As demonstrated in the Center for Public Education’s article “Making Time: At a Glance,” research surrounding time in school supports the following three key ideas:

  • More school time can produce more school learning when time is geared towards academic activities (as opposed to extracurricular or non-academic areas).
  • Professional development can ease this transition by focusing on maximizing class time and student engagement.
  • Full-day kindergarten participants make more gains than their half-day program peers.

How are the five chosen elementary schools of the Rochester Central School District going to change in light of the Time for Innovation Matters in Education (TIME) initiative?

Students will spend an additional 90 minutes per day in school, with staff following flexible scheduling and staggered start times to ensure adequate staff-to-student ratios while keeping costs at a reasonable level.

Schools are encouraged to “reimagine” their schedules to offer academic enrichment, fine arts, and increased access for counseling opportunities and community projects. Some schools are developing thematic approaches to the increased time, proposing STEM learning; a focus on arts, health, and wellness; and college-and-career-geared visits to local cultural institutions.

According to in-school surveys, students are excited about the prospects of extended hours and their potential exposure to new and exciting ways of learning. Who wouldn’t be excited about building robots to roam the hallways, learning about the latest healthcare breakthroughs, and visiting museums?! The bottom line is that each community has collectively agreed to “step up” its game to improve student achievement in ways that are relevant and meaningful to budding learners.

Besides increased scores on state assessments, other outcomes measures expected to show improvement are attendance rates, participation/student engagement, and reductions in office referrals. Fortunately for this New York school district, administration, teachers, parents, and students are on board with the TIME initiative to boost test scores and improve the district’s dismal 43% graduation rate.

Programs expanding the amount of time children spend in school can be incredibly expensive and difficult to sustain over time. With an initial investment of over $3 million/year (guaranteed for the next three years) from the Ford Foundation, plus start-up funding from a variety of state and federal grants, the New York school district anticipates additional costs ranging from $1,200-$1,300/student (with 2,300 students served).

The average employee in the labor force might not be too enthused about spending the equivalence of an additional 50 days at work every year (understatement of the year!), but the community of Rochester Central School District is ready to invest in the time and resources needed to turnaround their underperforming public schools. I, for one, am rooting for each participating district in the hopes that each one can serve as a microcosm of scalable success.-Christine Duchouquette

Filed under: CPE,funding,instruction — Tags: , , — Christine @ 2:47 pm






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