From four-day weeks to year-round formats, school districts nationwide are experimenting with modified school calendars for reasons that range from financial to academic. Calendar reform takes many forms, but the main concern for reform of the traditional school schedule seems to be the link between instructional time and learning.
What the Research Says on Time and Learning
In 2011, Harvard economist Roland Fryer examined New York City charter schools to identify the elements in schools that had the most impact on academic outcomes. Fryer determined that instructional time of at least 300 more hours and increased tutoring outside of the classroom were two of the strongest predictors of higher achievement. Modified school calendars, such as the four-day week and year-round schedule, change the arrangement of days and amount of hours students attend school. The traditional school year is 180 days, with a three-month summer break, but many educational experts find this break to be detrimental to student learning. Conversely, modified school calendars offer short breaks throughout the week or school year, allowing for longer class periods and better use of instructional time. In a recent study on New York City Charter Schools, led by Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby, researchers looked at the state assessment performance of students attending charter schools, who typically attend school 62 more days, in comparison with students attending public schools. Hoxby discovered those who attended charter schools outperformed their public school peers.
As of the 2006-2007 school year, 387 school districts in 46 states have implemented year-round schooling. Implementing a year-round calendar means revising the traditional nine-month calendar to a year, with more frequent breaks and a shorter summer. According to the National Association for Year-Round Education, restructuring the traditional calendar provides better learning conditions for students, as well as improved working conditions for teachers. Most year-round schools use a 45-15 plan, where students attend for 45 days and then are off for 15 days. Overall, school districts have found success with year-round schooling in regard to attendance, morale, time for remediation, and increased teacher planning and collaboration time.
4-Day Week School
As of 2008, 17 states had school districts operating on a four-day schedule. Four-day schedules add hours to the school day to meet instructional time requirements, with Fridays off. Most school districts seek out this schedule to alleviate transportation and operating costs. In addition to cost benefits, school districts have seen decreases in absenteeism and dropout rates as well. A 2006 report conducted by the Colorado Department of Education on the implementation of the four-day school week in 62 of the 178 school districts in Colorado reported that after switching to a four-day schedule, 80 to 90 percent of teachers, parents, and students favored the four-day schedule over the conventional schedule. Surveys also revealed the switch yielded a marked improvement in school morale.
The Summer Gap
All students experience learning loss when they do not participate in educational activities over summer break, and it is a concern of parents and educators that a three-month summer break simply widens the achievement gap between low-income students and their peers. One study by Johns Hopkins University's National Center for Summer Learning reported that low-income students lose significantly more academic ground in the summer because parents are less likely to read to them or pay for summer camps or other academic enrichment programs. Regardless of socioeconomic status, research shows that most students lose approximately two months of grade level equivalency in math skills and reading achievements over the summer months.