Four-day school week raises achievement

When rural schools move to a four-day week, test scores go up, along with student and teacher attendance, reports a study by Georgia State and Montana State researchers. And schools save money on transportation and utility bills, notes Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

The study looked at fourth-grade scores in Colorado, where more than a third of districts — typically small, poor and rural — have moved to a longer day and a shorter week.

Overall, districts with a four-day week started out with lower average scores than schools on traditional schedules, but saw a significant increase in the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced on both reading and math tests after they switched to the four-day week. Specifically, the researchers found that the shortened week was associated with a 7 percentage point gain in math scores and a 3 percentage point gain in reading. In reading, the improvement took place the year after the schedule was switched; in math, the improvement took place during the year the schedule was switched. In both cases, the improvements seem to have stuck for multiple years after the shift.

The report suggests a number of potential explanations, including improved attendance, increased teacher job satisfaction, and better teaching methods. (The longer school day might allow for longer lessons, for instance.)

A four-day week creates child-care problems for parents, the researchers warned. It could give unsupervised children more time to get into trouble. Or it could make it easier for teens to hold part-time jobs, possibly decreasing the dropout rate.

Of course, what’s true in rural areas with long bus rides to school may not apply to urban and suburban schools.

Four-day school week fails the test

Four-day school weeks are popular with students and teachers in Caldwell Parish, Louisiana, but test scores are declining, reports AP.  The district adopted the four-day week two years ago and plans to continue for the upcoming school year.

A comparison of Caldwell Parish fourth-grade LEAP scores from 2007 before the shortened week to those of the 2010 spring scores shows that the percentage of students scoring basic and above dropped in three out of four subject areas.

The number of students scoring basic and above in English language arts increased 5 percent, but fell 4 percent in math, 7 percent in science and 8 percent in social studies.

Eighth-grade scores also were down in three out of four subject areas. The percentage of students in eighth grade scoring basic or above was down 2 percent in English language arts, down 9 percent in math, down 9 percent in science and up 1 percent in social studies.

Students qualifying for promotion from grade four to five has remained the same as in 2007, but students meeting promotional standards in eighth grade are down four points.

Superintendent John Sartin said the district’s performance score, which reflect test scores, attendance, dropout rates and graduation outcomes, increased  from 92.8 in 2007 to 96 in 2009.

Schools try 4-day weeks

Four-day school weeks are becoming popular across the U.S., reports AP.

Peach County (Georgia) is one of more than 120 school districts across the country where students attend school just four days a week, a cost-saving tactic gaining popularity among cash-strapped districts struggling to make ends meet. The 4,000-student district started shaving a day off its weekly school calendar last year to help fill a $1 million budget shortfall.

It was that or lay off 39 teachers the week before school started, said Superintendent Susan Clark.

Test scores are up, as is attendance for both students and teachers. Clark expects the graduation rate to top 80 percent for the first time in years.

The four days that students are in school are slightly longer and more crowded with classes and activities. After school, students can get tutoring in subjects where they’re struggling.

On their off day, students who don’t have other options attend “Monday care” at area churches and the local Boys & Girls Club, where tutors are also available to help with homework. The programs generally cost a few dollars a day per student.

Although there’s little data, the four-day week doesn’t seem to hurt academics, said University of Southern Maine researcher Christine Donis-Keller.

Some districts report students who get a three-day weekend are less tired and more focused. But others say students need more time in class.

Rural districts were the first to adopt the shorter week to cut students’ commute times. Georgia, Oklahoma and Maine now let districts count their school year by hours rather than days, AP reports. To save money, Hawaii schools were closed every other Friday this year — without a longer school day.

Peach County will stick with the four-day week, which saves $400,000 annually. Teachers like the extra preparation time, Clark said.  “They don’t have kids sleeping in class on Tuesday,” she said. “Everything has taken on a laser-light focus.”

Districts try 4-day weeks to save money

Monday is not a school day in Peach County, Georgia, which moved to a four-day school week in the fall to save money. Several other Georgia districts may follow suit.

Peach County officials have estimated a savings of $313,000 in transportation and utilities costs, as well as fewer disciplinary actions and teacher absences as a result of the four-day week.

Pleasantville, Iowa plans to try a four-day week for three months next school year.  The Tuesday through Friday schedule will be extended by 30 minutes a day throughout the year, making up for the 12 lost days.

School officials expect to carve out at least $24,000 from keeping thermostats low, buildings dark, buses parked and cafeteria ovens off for Mondays in January through March – the coldest months of the school year. The district’s operating budget is about $5 million.

Nearly one in seven school superintendents is considering a four-day week, according to a survey by the American Association of School Administrators.