Can Four Equal Five? Assessing the Four-Day School Week

A four-day school week (4dsw) is becoming more common, especially in areas across the western United States. States with large rural areas are spearheading this change. For example, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota have more than 500 districts using a 4dsw.

Champions of the shorter week contend that it saves money, improves student attendance, and helps recruit and retain teachers to rural districts by offering them an extra day off each week.

The transition to the 4dsw and the debate over its effects have taken place largely in the absence of empirical evidence. To address this knowledge gap, a team of researchers from the RAND Corporation conducted a large-scale study of the 4dsw using data from 36 districts across Idaho, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. They also used administrative data from these states, as well as from Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota. The team analyzed both qualitative and quantitative data to compare experiences with a 4dsw and a five-day school week (5dsw).

The results point to trade-offs in the 4dsw model. Analysis of data from five states—Idaho, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and South Dakota—indicates some evidence of educational harm: The test scores for 4dsw districts improved but did so more slowly than they would have if the same schools had maintained a 5dsw. On the other hand, families and students in 4dsw districts reported highly valuing the extra time that the four-day schedule allowed the family to spend together.

This study, the largest of its kind to date, presents findings that can help inform choices by school, district, and state education leaders about the 4dsw model and develop policies or guide change as needed. 

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