Academic journal article Rural Educator

The Four-Day School Week: Impact on Student Academic Performance

Academic journal article Rural Educator

The Four-Day School Week: Impact on Student Academic Performance

Article excerpt

Although the four-day school week originated in 1936, it was not widely implemented until 1973 when there was a need to conserve energy and reduce operating costs. This study investigated how achievement tests scores of schools with a four-day school week compared with schools with a traditional five-day school week. The study focused on student performance in Colorado where 62 school districts operated a four-day school week. The results of the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) were utilized to examine student performance in reading, writing, and mathematics in grades 3 through 10. While the mean test scores for five-day week schools exceeded those of four-day week schools in 11 of the 12 test comparisons, the differences were slight, with only one area revealing a statistically significant difference. This study concludes that decisions to change to the four-day week should be for reasons other than student academic performance.

Key words: Four-day week; rural schools; flexible scheduling; school schedules; scheduling.

Johnson and Strange (2009) reported that 10,572,790 US public school students ( 1 9%) attend school in a rural school district. Howley, Theobald, and Howley (2005) claimed that the mainstream of society often believes that rural schools are, by their very nature, ineffective. Yet rural schools may be more innovative and creative than their suburban and urban counterparts. DAmico and Nelson (2000) found that rural communities have a long tradition of pulling together to do whatever needs to be done to benefit students. Many times the innovations implemented in rural schools do not get a great deal of publicity.

One such innovation embraced primarily by rural schools is the four-day school week. Wilmoth (1995) studied 84 school districts on a four-day week, located in seven western states, and found that all but 13 districts identified themselves as rural. Furthermore, 73 of the 84 school districts had enrollments of less than 1,000 and 59 of the total had an enrollment under 500. The amount of time American public school students spend in school has been an issue of on-going discussion for decades dating back to the 1983 report, A Nation at Risk (Pischke, 2007). Supporters and critics of public education, including President Obama, are strong proponents of lengthening the school year and the school day of public schools to match what are seen as more effective programs within the international community, specifically Europe and Asia (Ellis, 1984; Koskie, 2009).

On the domestic front, the highly popular and widely touted Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) (http://www.kipp.org) charter schools have implemented a school day that runs from 7:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. each day (Henig, 2008). This longer day is combined with a school year that requires students to attend every other Saturday and also for three weeks during the summer. Further research is required into the extent to which the increased student test scores observed in KIPP schools is due to the longer instruction time or to the culture of support and high expectations for academic achievement and behavior intrinsic to KIPP charter schools (Woodworm, David, Guha, Wang, & Lopez-Torkos, 2008). Cuban (2008) reported that there is little research to support that increasing the length of the day or the school year alone will produce any change in academic performance. According to Cuban, "In the past quarter century of tinkering with the school calendar, cultural changes, political decisions, or strong parental concerns trumped research every time" (p. 243). Although conventional wisdom might conclude that the more time a student spends in school the more the student will learn this conclusion may not be valid.

In an era marked by a drive to increase the number of days and the lengthen the school year, there is a group of primarily rural school districts in several states that are operating contrary to the trend by decreasing the number of days that students attend school, from the traditional five days per week model to a four-day school week (Yarbrough & Gilman, 2006). …

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