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Massive four-day school week study shows effects of the practice are mixed

Justin Johnson, an eighth grader at Bridge Creek Middle School in Blanchard, works on an essay during writing class on Nov. 21, 2019. Bridge Creek has four-day school weeks.
Whitney Bryen
Oklahoma Watch
Justin Johnson, an eighth grader at Bridge Creek Middle School in Blanchard, works on an essay during writing class on Nov. 21, 2019. Bridge Creek has four-day school weeks.

Four-day school weeks were a political lightning rod pre-pandemic.

As Oklahoma has debated the strengths and weaknesses of four-day school weeks in rural districts, there hasn't been much actual research supporting or discouraging the practice. 

That changes with a new Rand Corporation study on the shorter school weeks. The Rand Corporation studied four-day policies at schools in Oklahoma, Idaho and New Mexico.

In the 2020-21 school year, 83 of Oklahoma’s 500-plus school districts operated on the calendar that requires fewer, longer days in the classroom, according to data from Oklahoma’s State Department of Education.

The Rand Corporation released a 200 page report about the practice featuring data from those western states, including Oklahoma.

It found mixed results:

  • There is no significant difference between four and five-day districts when it comes to student performance. But student growth over time is lower at four-day districts and achievement slows when compared to five-day districts over several years in a four-day system.
  • Parents and students in rural districts overwhelmingly prefer four-day weeks. Of those surveyed, 85% of students preferred the abbreviated schedule and 69% of parents preferred it.
  • Students spend more time each day at school, but over the course of the year they get significantly less instruction when compared to their peers at five-day schools.
  • Students at four-day schools had more time for extracurricular activities and spent more time participating in sports.
  • Four-day students reported getting better sleep and being less tired than their peers at five-day schools.
  • There are limited cost savings in the switch. However, districts like those small savings.

Before the pandemic, it looked like this fall would be the beginning of the end of the practice as schools had to meet stringent accountability measures to keep a four-day week. 

Rulesimplemented by Oklahoma’s State Department of Education in 2019 say individual schools have to perform at or above state average in English and math proficiency tests. They also say a high school must have a graduation rate at or above the state average, academic achievement targets at or above the state average and post-secondary opportunities on par or better than the rest of the state.

However, because districts haven’t been given school report cards for two years now, they’ve been able to easily obtain the waivers.

So despite years of rhetoric and political fighting, the ultimate fate of four-day weeks in Oklahoma remains unclear.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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