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Research Questions

  1. How is the 4dsw implemented?
  2. What are the benefits and drawbacks of the 4dsw for different stakeholders?

The four-day school week (4dsw) is growing in popularity, especially in rural areas across the western United States. RAND Corporation researchers addressed knowledge gaps about the 4dsw by conducting a large-scale study of the implementation and outcomes of the 4dsw that involved the collection of original data in numerous districts across Idaho, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, as well as administrative data from these and other states. The researchers analyzed both qualitative and quantitative data to compare the 4dsw and five-day school week (5dsw). The analyses resulted in mixed findings.

Advocates of the 4dsw argue that the shorter week saves money, improves student attendance, and helps recruit and retain teachers in rural districts. Cost savings related to the four-day model were relatively small, but savings due to a 4dsw may be used to maintain the level of instructional expenses in the face of revenue shortages. There was no quantitative evidence that the 4dsw improved student attendance.

Qualitative data supported the view that the model helps attract and retain teachers. Families and students reported highly valuing the extra time that the 4dsw allowed them to spend together, and the data showed that, overall, stakeholders experienced high levels of satisfaction with the 4dsw. However, a comparison of English language arts and math test scores showed that students on the 4dsw have lower scores, over time, when compared with peers on a five-day schedule. Given these mixed findings, communities are likely to make different choices about the 4dsw depending on their goals and the local context.

Key Findings

  • On average, 4dsw districts had longer school days, but fewer of them and fewer instructional hours over the course of a school year.
  • Students on 4dsw schedules in grades K–6 and 7–12 reported having 4 hours and 3.5 hours of more free time per week, respectively, than 5dsw students.
  • Superintendents and school board members in districts visited by the researchers said that cost savings were the major motivation for adopting the 4dsw.
  • Most teachers viewed the 4dsw only as a "job perk"; other stakeholders thought it gave them a competitive advantage in teacher recruitment and retention.
  • School principals, teachers, parents, and students reported believing that students learned just as much or slightly more in the 4dsw than in a 5dsw, and that the difference in minutes of instructional time had no real effect on student achievement.
  • Student achievement did not grow as fast in the 4dsw districts after the adoption of the 4dsw policy compared with similar 5dsw districts.
  • Elementary students in 4dsw districts got more school-week sleep than their peers in 5dsw districts, but there was no difference in the amount of sleep that middle and high school students got during the school week in 4dsw and 5dsw districts.
  • Formal modeling of survey results on elementary parents indicated no significant difference in the perceived stress of 4dsw and 5dsw parents. However, focus group parents across all 4dsw districts felt it allowed more flexibility in their schedules and made it easier to spend time together as family.

Recommendations

  • Debates about 4dsw adoption should acknowledge that there is only weak support for the three main reasons that districts typically adopt the 4dsw: saving money, reducing student absences, and attracting and retaining teachers.
  • Policymakers should take into account the overwhelming popularity of the 4dsw as they engage in community discussions about 4dsw adoption or switching back from a 4dsw to a 5dsw.
  • School and district officials should recognize that examining a school's or district's student achievement over time is not an adequate metric for assessing the effects of the 4dsw on achievement. Data show that even though student achievement at 4dsw districts was generally trending upward over time, this growth was not as large as what the 4dsw districts would have attained with a 5dsw schedule.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Overview of Methods

  • Chapter Three

    The Four-Day School Week in Practice

  • Chapter Four

    Analyzing the Claims of Proponents of the Four-Day School Week

  • Chapter Five

    How Does the Four-Day School Week Affect Other Outcomes?

  • Chapter Six

    Four-Day School Week Benefits, Drawbacks, and Trade-Offs

  • Appendix A

    Detailed Methods

  • Appendix B

    Detailed Results

This study was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and undertaken jointly by RAND Education and Labor and RAND Social and Economic Well-Being.

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