Many companies have experimented with their work schedules in an attempt to decrease costs, increase performance, or both. One common example is the four day/ten hour per day workweek. The workweek is still 40 hours, but compressed by a day. By moving to four days, the company can either close down the office for three days and save on maintenance and upkeep or they can rejigger shifts to have 4/day 3/day rotations that are easier to pair up than 5 day/ 2 day rotations would be.
The downside is that an employee may not be able to resist the buildup of mental and physical fatigue over a ten hour shift. On the other hand, perhaps she can concentrate better with fewer gaps between shifts and productivity could increase over a longer day. Much of this depends on the kind of work done and how the activities are scheduled throughout the day. There is still much we don’t know.
What about doing this in K-12 education? What if schools switched away from the typical Monday through Friday 8am to 3pm kind of schedule with sports and club activities from 3-5pm and moved that to a compressed four day week that ends a few hours later? The benefits and costs would be similar to doing it with the work week. But also different.
A study from Mary Beth Walker at Georgia State and her colleagues investigated this in the field using sets of schools that were matched on socio-economic levels, school size, and other characteristics. They looked at Colorado where 1/3 of schools use the four day schedule so they would have a sufficient sample size to study.
How would you react if you were told that your local public school planned to change the schedule from the traditional Monday-through-Friday model to a schedule that contained four longer school days? Would you worry about long days for young children, their academic accomplishments and, of course, childcare?
The results are promising. They found the four day school week was associated with statistically higher math scores, marginally higher (but not statistically significant) reading scores, and no comparisons where the four day workweek hurt performance (keeping in mind of course that statistics are not good at proving the negative).
There are many possible reasons for this difference. None were explored in the study and remain open questions. First, there are the logistics. Is it easier for working parents to get a full day of daycare on Fridays rather than a few hours after school each day? Does this change the way students approach part time jobs?
There are also pedagogical differences. Do teachers teach differently with the compressed scheduled? Do they use different instructional methods? Does the homework dynamic change when there are three day weekends?
There are also possible cognitive differences. Do students learn as much with the compressed schedule simply because of massed practice versus more distributed practice schedules? Are longer memory consolidation periods better for some kinds of learning (and not for others) over a three day weekend?
There are so many questions here. But I appreciate Colorado’s effort to try out changes to see what happens. We need to constantly improve our education system and if straightforward changes like this (compared to common core and standardized testing debates) can make a difference, why not give them a shot?
So that is what I ask you – is there a reason not to try these kinds of things out? Can you think of any particular changes you think would be helpful? Or any that you think would be harmful? Other consequences I haven’t mentioned here?
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