Oregon seems determined to undermine academic success in its public schools.
With Oregon’s public school students already suffering from abysmal scores on national reading and mathematics tests, earning declining scores in civics and history tests, and with one in five students failing to graduate from high school in four years, Oregon seems determined to shortchange its young people even further as an increasing number of the state’s school districts are adopting 4-day school weeks (4dsw).
In the 1975-1976 school year, just one Oregon school district operated on a 4dsw, according to the Oregon Department of Education. By the 1986-87 school year, the number of 4dsw districts had grown to 7.
Oregon now has the fourth-highest number of schools on a 4dsw in the country, with 137 schools across 80 districts opting for the shorter school week, according to EdSource. That’s roughly 11% of the more than 1,200 K-12 schools in the state. The majority of these schools are in rural areas, particularly in Eastern Oregon.[i]
The newest addition to the 4dsw in Oregon is the Imbler School District in Union County near the Blue Mountains. It recently announced it will be moving to a 4dsw in the 2023-24 school year. It will start with a two-year pilot program, after which the program will be evaluated. The Imbler School Board voted that “it was in the best interest of students and staff to move forward with the four-day school week.”
According to the Rand Corporation, an American non-partisan nonprofit global policy think tank and research institute, qualitative data supports the view that the 4dsw model helps attract and retain teachers. Families and students reported highly valuing the extra time that the schedule allowed them to spend together, and the data showed that, overall, stakeholders experienced high levels of satisfaction with the shortened week.
BUT, Is a 4dsw really “in the best interest” of students?
While a 4dsw is gaining adherents, research is showing that meaningful learning losses result. Less classroom time correlates directly with progressively lower test scores and academic achievement.
Data gathered by RAND researchers shows 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. In other words, there is mounting evidence that children in 4dsw programs fall behind their peer a little every year.
A comparison of English language arts and math test scores showed that students on the 4-day week have meaningfully lower scores, over time, when compared with peers on a five-day schedule. Students in elementary school and middle school that switched to a 4dsw schedule were the most negatively impacted by the change academically.
A six-state analysis, published in 2022 by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, found lower student achievement in four-day schools, with larger negative effects among Hispanic students, as well as in those in towns and the suburbs, as compared to rural areas.
A 4dsw “unambiguously hurts student achievement over time,” Christopher Doss, a RAND policy researcher, told the news site, Axios.
Rand also concluded, “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.”
The desire to save money, for example, is often a big motivator for choosing a 4dsw, a common assumption being that one less school day will translate into 20% of savings. RAND’s research concluded that most school costs—salaries and benefits—don’t vary by the length of the school week and that switching to a 4dsw would be more likely to save less than 5%.
A 4dsw doesn’t reduce absenteeism either. Kids who don’t show up consistently on a 5dsw don’t become more responsible on a 4dsw. A time series analysis by RAND found no statistical difference between the absenteeism rates of students in 4dsw districts and 5dsw districts.
So much for 4dsw.
[i] The shift to 4-day weeks has been occurring nationally, too. At the beginning of 2020 there were 650 U.S. school districts on a four-day schedule. Now there are 850, according to Paul Thompson, an associate professor of economics at Oregon State University who has done extensive research on the topic. The schedule is most popular in small, rural districts. In Colorado, which has the largest percentage, 124 of the state’s 178 districts (70%) follow a four-day schedule.