The old adage that says working harder, for longer produces better results may well be changing according to a new study published this week.

Shortening the school week to four days, instead of staying at the customary five, has a positive impact on primary school students’ academic performance in mathematics. This new study comes out of the researchers at Georgia State University and Montana State University.

The study, published in the journal Education, Finance and Policy in July, analysed the impact of a four-day school week on student achievement. This was done by comparing fourth-grade, year four, reading and fifth-grade, year five, math test scores from the Colorado Student Assessment Program for students who participated in a four-day school week, versus those who attended a traditional five-day school week.

The researchers found the children working with a four-day schedule, had a statistically significant effect on math scores for fifth-grade students, while reading scores were not affected negatively or positively by the changes.

The study appears to suggest there is little evidence that moving to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement. This is particularly important in America where some U.S. school districts are seeking ways to cut costs without hampering student achievement.

“What interested me about our results is they were completely opposite to what we anticipated,” said Mary Beth Walker, dean of the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State. “We thought that especially for the younger, elementary school kids, longer days on a shorter school week would hurt their academic performance because their attention spans are shorter. Also, a longer weekend would give them more opportunity to forget what they had learned.”

Although the shorter school week did not have an impact on reading results as it did with mathematics, “the idea that the change in the calendar did not have negative effects we thought was an important result,” said Walker.

A number of school districts in the United States have moved from the traditional Monday through Friday schedule to a four-day week as a cost-saving measure to reduce overhead and transportation costs for both themselves and the parents. The change which these school districts have moved towards appear to have been the right decision considering that there is no measurable disadvantage to the four day week.

Four-day weeks have been in place for years in rural school districts in the western states, particularly in Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. These states are also not exactly the most prosperous and that could be one of the reasons for the changes towards a shorter education week. Over one-third of the school districts in Colorado have adopted a four-day schedule. The alternative schedule has also been considered in school districts in Oregon, Missouri, Florida and Georgia.

The four-day school week requires school districts to lengthen the school day to meet minimum instructional hour requirements. Walker has said that there had previously been a lack of information on whether the four-day school week affects student performance.

The researchers have speculated on why the shortened school week positively affected students but there is as of yet not enough data to draw definite conclusions.

“We thought the longer days might give teachers an opportunity to use different kinds of instructional processes,” Walker said. “We also speculated that a four-day school week lowered absenteeism, so students who had dentist’s appointments or events might be able to put those off until Friday and not miss school. We thought there might be less teacher absenteeism. My own personal hypothesis is teachers liked it so much—they were so enthusiastic about the four-day week—they did a better job. There’s some evidence in other labor studies that four-day work weeks enhance productivity.”

Walker notes the results are only applicable to smaller and more rural school districts. Further studies should be performed to understand the effects on urban school districts, she said.

Despite the statement saying that these results can only apply to smaller rural schools the findings are positive. A move to a four day schooling week is not only effective as a cost cutting measure but as it can be proved to have a positive effect on performance in at least one area why not in other subjects? Could this be the move which can help education become more financially viable and raise standards across several subjects? We certainly hope so, and with more research why couldn’t this be possible?