Does a 4-day Week Mean Lower Reading Scores?

  • amount of instruction academic learning time
  • 29 June, 2024
  • 11 Comments

Teacher question:

There is much interest in many states to reduce the number of student contact days.  The typical 180 student contact days are being questioned and often replaced with fewer instructional days that are often only a few minutes longer.  Is there any research on four-day weeks versus the typical 180 school day calendar?

Shanahan responds:

Amount of instruction is an important variable in academic achievement. Usually, if we increase the amount of teaching by a reasonable amount, we tend to see increases in learning. From eyeballing the research studies, I’d estimate that 20-30 hours more reading instruction per year, tends to lead to more learning.

Increasing amount of instruction can raise achievement, so reducing instruction would likely have an analogous learning reduction.

Time increases don’t always pay off, however.

For instance, teachers may not use the added time for teaching. I’ve seen that with some afterschool programs. By the time there has been a bathroom break, a snack, and some recreation, the extra hour turns out to be more like an extra 15 minutes and that isn’t necessarily devoted to potentially effective teaching either.

Time – amount of instruction – is one of the “big three” when it comes to stimulating learning, but it only leads to increased learning if something worthwhile is being taught (curriculum) and when the teaching is sufficiently sound (quality).

It is difficult to sort out exactly how much time is lost with the four-day week since districts usually put some back by lengthening school day. But it’s hard to see how days can be lengthened sufficiently to make up for what would be about a 6-hour weekly loss in many districts.

Surprisingly, according to the research, four-day school weeks generally make no difference.

One possibility is the time reductions aren’t as great as I’m suggesting. Maybe we’re not really losing 6 hours per week. The studies point out some reductions in the reductions due to lowered absenteeism. Students – and teachers – tend to miss fewer days under this kind of schedule and having kids in school a larger percentage of the time with fewer days taught by substitutes is a powerful offset.

Even when time is lost, however, a district may try to “protect” reading and math time. That may vouchsafe reading and math scores, though there would likely be a loss in terms of content learning (e.g., science, social studies, art, music, tech).

I suspect that there is another important reason why reading achievement holds up.

Reductions in time may fail to lower reading scores due to the wasteful way time is often used in our schools.

Teachers too often fill the reading block rather than utilizing it. They may devote the reading instruction time to:

  • Reading to students (instead of engaging them in reading – here I’m not speaking of reading aloud to younger children who can’t read or can’t read very well yet),
  • Assigning “independent reading” (self-selected reading with no monitoring or brief one-on-one conferencing),
  • Guided reading with texts the students can already read reasonably well (texts supposedly at the kids’ “instructional levels”), or
  • Worksheet assignments that appear aimed at little more than test-taking practice with certain kinds of comprehension questions.

Dump those activities and there might not be much of a loss in achievement, since they don’t contribute much to learning in the first place.

Teachers often cling to these activities not because of their potency, but because of the need to fill time with a minimum of planning. These activities keep kids busy even if they don’t stimulate learning.

I would be a lot happier if those time losses due to four-day weeks would matter.

I think they would if we were more careful in our use of instructional time, providing a substantial amount of the kinds of word, fluency, comprehension, and writing instruction that results in learning.

If that were the norm, the results of those correlational studies might be very different, perhaps enough to make school boards loathe to surrender instructional time.

Maybe they would even think about how to get more instructional time for our kids.

Bibliography

Bell, J. L. (2011). Can the 4-day school week work: An analysis of the impact of the 4-day school week on a rural Georgia school district. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Capella University. 

Cooper, H., Valentine, J. C., Charlton, K., & Melson, A. (2003///Apr 2003 - Jun). The effects of modified school calendars on student achievement and on school and community attitudes. Review of Educational Research, 73(1), 1-52.

Cuban, L. (2008). The perennial reform: Fixing school time. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(4), 240-250.

Domier, P. S. (2010). Every second counts: School week and achievement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Capella University.

Kraft, M. A., & Novicoff, S. (2022). Instructional time in U.S. public schools: Wide variation, causal effects, and lost hours. Annenburg, Brown University. 

Lewis, M. E. (2018). Comparing professional learning practices of Missouri’s four- and five-day schools. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Southwest Baptist University.

Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Allen, A. B. (2010). Extending the school day or school year: A systematic review of research (1985-2009). Review of Educational Research, 80(3), 401-436. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654310377086

LISTEN TO MORE: Shanahan On Literacy Podcast 

Comments

See what others have to say about this topic.

Dr. Bill Conrad Jun 29, 2024 04:13 PM

The same logic can be applied to smaller class sizes.

John Hattie reports a very small positive effect size for small classes. He attributes this small gain to the probability that teachers do not change their large group teaching practices when class sizes are reduced. A lecture will get the same effect in a large class as in a small class.

However, increasing the use of reading with focused learning targets and focused individual feedback may improve learning of reading when class sizes are reduced. The two have to go together if reading achievement is to improve!

Dana Jun 29, 2024 04:38 PM

Worksheet assignments that mirror state assessments are a necessary evil. I wish they weren’t, but teacher, school, and district evaluations are tied to high scores. There have been many times over the years when I have questioned the question stem and answers that are ever so close- almost designed to trick kids. Even worse are the two part questions. Get one part wiring and it’s even more difficult to get the second part correct.

Roisin Downey Jun 29, 2024 06:44 PM

Hi Tim, while in Ireland we’ve no moves towards a 4-day week for the time being, we do have a considerably shorter daily literacy block than you do in the States! Therefore we have similar concerns in making the most of our time. Would you have any advice on how to ensure we are using our time effectively, particularly in the elementary/ primary years? We have quite a lot of agency at a school and classroom level. Thanks!

Timothy Shanahan Jun 29, 2024 07:14 PM

Roisin--
Time is always my first concern in teaching anything. It is not just an issue of how much total time, but whether enough time is being spent on each area of development that is needed. I'm a fan of taking the total reading instructional time that you have and dividing it into quarters -- for word knowledge, fluency, comprehension, and writing. They all need continuous attention but that often doesn't happen. First, maiximize the literacy teaching time as much as possible (without shortchanging other areas of instruction) and then make sure that all of those areas of literacy learning get adequate attention within that total.

tim

Timothy Shanahan Jun 29, 2024 07:17 PM

Dana--

I have no problem with teachers trying to maximize test scores -- but that approach won't work, so teachers are wasting time that could be used to improve kids' reading achievement and in ways that would make those test scores look better.

tim

Timothy Shanahan Jun 29, 2024 07:20 PM

Bill--

Smaller class size, in my experience, allows teachers to cover much more ground than they can with a larger class. The fact is most teachers who are assigned small classes tend to go no further nor to extend student learning beyond what they teach in larger classes so it tends to be a lousy (and expensive) way to raise achievement. It is akin to investing in enhanced teaching in the primary grades with no concomitant revision to the upper grades curriculum (the kids come it at a higher level, but the teachers teach what they always have, so in a year or two the learning advantage is cannabalized).

tim

b laws Jul 04, 2024 11:31 PM

When I were in junior high school I wanted to spend less time in school as possible because I felt school was boring but They never changed to four days a week, what do you think was the reason why they never did it then?

Timothy Shanahan Jul 05, 2024 02:35 PM

b laws --

Perhaps your district wasn't trying to save money, your district wasn't have trouble getting substitute teachers, and, of course, there had been no recent pandemic.

tim

Marquita Williams Jul 06, 2024 04:16 AM

Why do you think it is so difficult for most or all school to transition to a 4-day week cirriculum if ulitmately assist educators with providing more successfull and efficient learning tools to utilize in the classroom?

Timothy Shanahan Jul 06, 2024 03:07 PM

Marquita--
I suspect that districts that adopt a four-day week are not really very concerned about the academic progress of the kids, but more concerned about the costs of their education or the difficulties inherent in managing the schools. Of course, since their efforts usually lead to a reduction in the amount of instruction, administrators are more likely to defer to teachers as to what is still taught (teachers, unfortunately, do not always excise the weakest parts of their teaching).

tim

Miriam Trehearne Jul 13, 2024 06:41 PM

Miriam P. Trehearne

Time Spent on Literacy Teaching and Learning Across the Day
© Miriam P. Trehearne from Multiple Paths to Literacy K-2
Teachers who allocate more time to reading and language arts are the teachers whose children show the greatest gains in literacy development (Allington and Cunningham 1996). However, it is not just the number of minutes allocated to literacy learning that matters. How are these minutes used? Student motivation, self-regulation, and engagement are key.

Time in Kindergarten
Literacy learning occurs across the Kindergarten day — in whole- class, small-group, and one-to-one activities, both at centers and during cross-curricular activities. Children in Kindergarten also need large blocks of time to play, explore, investigate, reflect, and share often through inquiry and play. Inquiries often tend to be ongoing for at least several days, as does mature play (See Mature Play, p. 180; Inquiries, Chapters 13 and 14). Lots of student-talk, both student–adult and student–student, is crucial. (See Extending Conversations, p. 127–132; Conversations, Chapter 4 and 5; Documentation (See Documentation and Effective Feedback, p. 61) both reciprocal student and teacher feedback, are all crucial in Kindergarten. The possibilities for student improvement are now endless, with full-day early learning/Kindergarten being implemented in numerous Canadian provinces (Nova Scotia being the first) and many U.S. states. However, simply adding more time is not enough. What is done during this time is crucial.

Time in Grades 1–2
Students in Grades 1–2 need to spend at least two hours daily focused on language arts (Allington and Cunningham 1996). “Research indicates that using longer instructional blocks often results in productive and complicated work being achieved” (Allington and Johnston 2001, 161). Long blocks of uninterrupted time are most beneficial. This time must be sacred. The more interruptions and transitions, the more time lost. Frequent intercom announcements must also be eliminated. However, simply adding more time is not enough. What is done with this time is crucial. At least half the time in Grades 1–2 should see students reading and writing. Strategic cross-curricular literacy integration across the day and from day to day is also crucial. In their research on effective Fourth Grade classrooms, Allington and Johnston indicate, “Integration across subjects, time, and topics was common, rather than a compartmentalized curriculum” (2000, 17). Much of the work was longer-term in nature — lasting for a week or more — rather than a series of small tasks to be completed each day. It is likely that this research can be extrapolated to Grades K–2, including time spent doing inquiry and play because deep understanding comes from being immersed in extended inquiries and play.
Students learn to read and write by doing lots of reading and writing. Stanovitch (1986) describes the “Matthew Effect,” where “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” That is, strong readers typically read a great deal and the more they read, the better they get. Struggling readers typically read less and less as they move up through the grades, and the gap between them and their more capable peers widens more and more, year by year, even day by day!
Equally important to lots of reading and writing in Grades 1–2 is lots of student talk, both student–adult, adult to student and student–student. (See Extending the Conversations, and Conversations, Chapters 4 and 5). Intentional and focused teaching, documentation (See Documentation, p. 61), and student and teacher feedback are also crucial.

The role of the administrator is crucial. There must be a priority by administration when scheduling timetables that the language arts block is the first priority. “Creating the two-and-a-half hour uninterrupted blocks begins by setting that as a firm organizational guideline. Classroom teachers need time to teach. They need uninterrupted time to teach. Kids need time to learn. To read. To write. Uninterrupted!” (Allington 9).

Learning Literacy in a Four Day Work Week.
A number of school districts in Canada have instituted a four-day schoolwork week. When administration was questioned as to the reason(s) for a four day vs. five-day school calendar, most admitted that it was not initiated to improve academics but generally for non educational reasons such as bussing, especially way up in the north. When visiting such classrooms, especially K-2, the majority of teachers expressed concerns. For example, if the school week was established as Monday to Thursday that meant that generally the students were off Friday, Saturday and Sunday. For young students, there was often a retention issue when what was learned on Thursday we not revisited until at least Monday. Other than teacher testimony, which is crucial and common-sense understanding, there is no data that I have found that verifies these teachers’ concerns.







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Does a 4-day Week Mean Lower Reading Scores?

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