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Timothy Shanahan
Shanahan on Literacy
Timothy Shanahan

Does a 4-Day Week Mean Lower Reading Scores?

While research does not show that the 4-day week results in lower reading scores, that may indicate that we’re not careful enough in our use of instructional time — providing a substantial amount of the kinds of word, fluency, comprehension, and writing instruction that results in learning.

Teacher question

There is much interest in many states to reduce the number of student contact days.  The typical 180 student contact days are being questioned and often replaced with fewer instructional days that are often only a few minutes longer.  Is there any research on four-day weeks versus the typical 180 school day calendar?

Shanahan’s response

Amount of instruction is an important variable in academic achievement. Usually, if we increase the amount of teaching by a reasonable amount, we tend to see increases in learning. From eyeballing the research studies, I’d estimate that 20-30 hours more reading instruction per year, tends to lead to more learning.

Increasing amount of instruction can raise achievement, so reducing instruction would likely have an analogous learning reduction.

Time increases don’t always pay off, however.

For instance, teachers may not use the added time for teaching. I’ve seen that with some afterschool programs. By the time there has been a bathroom break, a snack, and some recreation, the extra hour turns out to be more like an extra 15 minutes and that isn’t necessarily devoted to potentially effective teaching either.

Time — amount of instruction — is one of the “big three” when it comes to stimulating learning, but it only leads to increased learning if something worthwhile is being taught (curriculum) and when the teaching is sufficiently sound (quality).

It is difficult to sort out exactly how much time is lost with the four-day week since districts usually put some back by lengthening school day. But it’s hard to see how days can be lengthened sufficiently to make up for what would be about a 6-hour weekly loss in many districts.

Surprisingly, according to the research, four-day school weeks generally make no difference.

One possibility is the time reductions aren’t as great as I’m suggesting. Maybe we’re not really losing 6 hours per week. The studies point out some reductions in the reductions due to lowered absenteeism. Students — and teachers — tend to miss fewer days under this kind of schedule and having kids in school a larger percentage of the time with fewer days taught by substitutes is a powerful offset.

Even when time is lost, however, a district may try to “protect” reading and math time. That may vouchsafe reading and math scores, though there would likely be a loss in terms of content learning (e.g., science, social studies, art, music, tech).

I suspect that there is another important reason why reading achievement holds up.

Reductions in time may fail to lower reading scores due to the wasteful way time is often used in our schools.

Teachers too often fill the reading block rather than utilizing it. They may devote the reading instruction time to:

  • Reading to students (instead of engaging them in reading — here I’m not speaking of reading aloud to younger children who can’t read or can’t read very well yet)
  • Assigning “independent reading” (self-selected reading with no monitoring or brief one-on-one conferencing)
  • Guided reading with texts the students can already read reasonably well (texts supposedly at the kids’ “instructional levels”)
  • Worksheet assignments that appear aimed at little more than test-taking practice with certain kinds of comprehension questions.

Dump those activities and there might not be much of a loss in achievement, since they don’t contribute much to learning in the first place.

Teachers often cling to these activities not because of their potency, but because of the need to fill time with a minimum of planning. These activities keep kids busy even if they don’t stimulate learning.

I would be a lot happier if those time losses due to four-day weeks would matter.

I think they would if we were more careful in our use of instructional time, providing a substantial amount of the kinds of word, fluency, comprehension, and writing instruction that results in learning.

If that were the norm, the results of those correlational studies might be very different, perhaps enough to make school boards loathe to surrender instructional time.

Maybe they would even think about how to get more instructional time for our kids.


Bell, J. L. (2011). Can the 4-day school week work: An analysis of the impact of the 4-day school week on a rural Georgia school district. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Capella University.

Cooper, H., Valentine, J. C., Charlton, K., & Melson, A. (2003///Apr 2003 - Jun). The effects of modified school calendars on student achievement and on school and community attitudes. Review of Educational Research, 73(1), 1-52.

Cuban, L. (2008). The perennial reform: Fixing school time. Phi Delta Kappan, 90(4), 240-250.

Domier, P. S. (2010). Every second counts: School week and achievement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Capella University.

Kraft, M. A., & Novicoff, S. (2022). Instructional time in U.S. public schools: Wide variation, causal effects, and lost hours. Annenburg, Brown University.

Lewis, M. E. (2018). Comparing professional learning practices of Missouri’s four- and five-day schools. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Southwest Baptist University.

Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Allen, A. B. (2010). Extending the school day or school year: A systematic review of research (1985-2009). Review of Educational Research, 80(3), 401-436. (opens in a new window)

Selected comments

Comment from Roison D.

Hi Tim, while in Ireland we’ve no moves towards a 4-day week for the time being, we do have a considerably shorter daily literacy block than you do in the States! Therefore we have similar concerns in making the most of our time. Would you have any advice on how to ensure we are using our time effectively, particularly in the elementary/ primary years? We have quite a lot of agency at a school and classroom level.

Reply from Shanahan

Roisin —

Time is always my first concern in teaching anything. It is not just an issue of how much total time, but whether enough time is being spent on each area of development that is needed. I’m a fan of taking the total reading instructional time that you have and dividing it into quarters — for word knowledge, fluency, comprehension, and writing. They all need continuous attention but that often doesn’t happen. First, maiximize the literacy teaching time as much as possible (without shortchanging other areas of instruction) and then make sure that all of those areas of literacy learning get adequate attention within that total. Thanks!

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About the Author

Literacy expert Timothy Shanahan shares best practices for teaching reading and writing. Dr. Shanahan is an internationally recognized professor of urban education and reading researcher who has extensive experience with children in inner-city schools and children with special needs. All posts are reprinted with permission from Shanahan on Literacy (opens in a new window).