Panel Paper: The Effects of Four-Day School Weeks on High School Academic Achievement and Health Behaviors

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Governor's Square 11 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Paul N. Thompson, Oregon State University

In the wake of the Great Recession, many school districts were left scrambling to find ways to increase revenues and minimize costs in the face of rising budget deficits. For some school districts, especially rural school districts, four-day school weeks (FDSW) have been championed as a way to reduce costs, ease financial pressures, and better accommodate student activities. Currently, 1,500 school in over 600 school districts in 24 states allow FDSW (Thompson, et al., 2019). schools have been shown to be critical settings to promote student learning and child health, but FDSW schedules limit access to classroom instruction and school-day physical activity opportunities and reduce school meal program access by 20%. While recent research has documented the impacts of FDSW on academic achievement for primary school students (Anderson and Walker, 2015; Thompson, 2019) and juvenile crime (Fischer and Argyle, 2018), very little is known about the academic ramifications of FDSW for high school students and the impact of FDSW on adolescent health behaviors (e.g., physical activity, nutrition, sexual/drug use behaviors).

This study is the first to use student-level data to assess whether the shift to a FDSW impacts student achievement and adolescent health behaviors. In this study, I examine the effects of FDSW on the math and reading achievement of over 200,000 9th to 12th grade students and adolescent health behaviors for 8th and 11th grade students in Oregon from 2007-2015. The achievement data comes from the Oregon Department of Education and includes the math and reading test scores for each student in each of these years, student demographics, indicators of participation in special education, ESL, etc., and school-level teacher characteristics. I also examine mechanisms underlying the achievement effects using student-level data on absences and disciplinary incidents and an original data set of school day start and end times. Data on adolescent health behaviors comes from Oregon Health Authority’s Oregon Healthy Teens survey, which is conducted every two years and asks 8th and 11th grade students questions regarding physical activity, nutrition, leisure activities, risky behaviors.

This research uses a difference-in-differences (DD) type analysis, exploiting variation in the timing of adoption of these FDSW and students’ exposure to these policies across schools, school districts, years, and grades to examine the effect of these policies on achievement. This strategy exploits plausibly exogenous variation in the years in which some school districts operated with a FDSW. While research is still ongoing, this study expects that instructional time reductions in these FDSW schools will lead to negative achievement effects for high school students and the loss of food services and physical education in schools once a week will lead to changes in nutritional intake and the amount of physical activity students engage in each week. The often, unsupervised, off-day may also lead students to engage in a higher incidence of risky behaviors.