As Labor Day abruptly marked the end of summer, arguments for a four-day workweek roiled across the Internet as a conduit to improved health and a greater quality of life.
But the question of students enjoying a shorter school week has remained largely off the table because of concerns that an extended weekend would hurt academic performance.
A recent study found otherwise. Students who attended schools following a four-day week schedule had improved test scores, specifically in math, according to a report published by the Association for Education Finance and Policy.
Researchers Mary Beth Walker of Georgia State University and D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University compared the reading and math scores of students in fourth and fifth grade between those who attended school for five days a week versus those who attended for four.
The researchers found that the students with shorter school weeks had better math scores. Reading scores were not affected.
Walker said the findings were the opposite of what she expected.
“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,” Walker said in a statement. “Also, a longer weekend would give them more opportunity to forget what they had learned.”
Colorado, where the study took place, is among a handful of states containing rural school districts that have had a four-day week schedule for years to save money through reduced overhead and transportation costs.
Walker said the study suggests there is little evidence that school districts looking to cut cost through a shorter week negatively impacts student performance.
She underlined a handful of explanations, including lower student and teacher absenteeism and the longer days providing teachers with the opportunity to use different instructional processes.
“My own personal hypothesis is teachers liked it so much—they were so enthusiastic about the four-day week—they did a better job,” Walker said. “There’s some evidence in other labor studies that four-day work weeks enhance productivity.”