Recent studies focusing on learning and tighter school budgets are suggesting that districts take a new view on the five-day-a-week school schedule.
Already in Colorado, budget cuts have led to schools switching to four longer school days. The change resulted in the district saving on busing costs and other daily expenses. The action also set up an inadvertent laboratory that allowed educators to study the effects of school schedules on student performance, writes Lucy Schouten of The Christian Science Monitor.
After two years, elementary students’ test scores in math had improved, though reading scores were unchanged, according to a study published in Education Finance and Policy.
“The longer days might give teachers an opportunity to use different kinds of instructional processes,” said Mary Beth Walker, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State, a co-author on the study. “We also speculated that a four-day school week lowered absenteeism, so students who had dentist’s appointments or events might be able to put those off until Friday and not miss school. We thought there might be less teacher absenteeism.”
Dr. Walker added that in her personal opinion, teachers like the altered schedule so much that they did a better job. In other labor studies, Walker says, four-day work weeks have enhanced productivity.
This is not to say that a shorter week is the right solution for every school. The study, “Does Shortening the School Week Impact Student Performance? Evidence from the Four-Day School Week,” dealt with small, rural schools and found improvement in math scores for fifth-graders only. There were no results showing that the shorter week hurt kids’ academic performance.
Rural, western school districts are choosing the four-day school week with more regularity. Colorado school districts have adopted shorter weeks in over one-third of its school districts. School districts in Oregon, Missouri, Florida, and Georgia are considering the change.
The shorter school week shift comes at the same time as a push to lessen the amount of elementary homework. Those against too much homework say it takes time away from family interaction and it lessens children’s opportunity for self-guided learning. In fact, Alfie Kohn, author and anti-hoomwork advocate, says assigning a daily reading time is the perfect way to make kids hate reading.
When a random holiday comes along and creates a three-day weekend, kids rejoice. Now, if districts agree with the results of the study, that is exactly what kids will be having every week, writes Ali Venosa for Medical Daily.
“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.”
Max Opray of Australia’s The New Daily writes that Murdoch University’s Dr. Anne Price, a specialist in curriculum development for practitioners and professional issues for teachers, expressed reservations about how this concept would be applied in Australia. She explained that the length of the school day or week is only one factor of many when it comes to educating children.
“As with all good decisions, this should be worked out at a local level where all stakeholders are involved in meaningful discussions about the impact on them in their context,” she said.
But Bankstown Senior College principal Anne Doyle says her school is already trying out the approach. She explains that students can use the extra day to pursue employment opportunities, reduce commuting time, or “complete family commitments.”
Maleny High on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland is ditching their four-day week. The school’s long-running policy of allowing students to take Wednesdays off to apprentice, study, or work part-time is over. The change, say school officials, is because of the “outcome of a review of the senior student’s assessment and attendance data.” Students, however, are not happy about reverting to a five-day week.