Texas One Step Closer to Ending Four-Day School Weeks
On April 19, the Texas Senate Education Committee voted SB 2368 out of committee with a 7-4 vote (with one abstention), and the bill will soon be sent to the full Texas Senate for a vote. As I outlined in a previous post, SB 2368 would eliminate the possibility of school districts and local communities to choose to utilize four-day instructional weeks.
I’m not going to rehash all of the information from my previous post (probably worth reading if you’re new to this discussion); instead, I would like to use this post to discuss the data that has been quoted by Senator Campbell and Commissioner Morath to criticize the effectiveness of four-day weeks when it comes to academic achievement.
If you review the bill analysis for SB 2368, you’ll find that the analysis is very specifically focused on the “negative effects” of four-day school weeks. There are four effects provided in a bulleted list, with the first two referencing a study that analyzed student achievement in Oregon schools that implemented four-day school weeks.
While the specific name of the study was not included in the bill analysis nor were the specifics of the study ever discussed at length in the Senate Education Committee, Senator Campbell’s statements regarding the length of the study and the specifics of the subject matter (i.e. four-day school weeks in Oregon) provide a clear picture that the study is the IZA Institute of Labor Economics’ paper by Paul Thompson from Oregon State University titled “Effects of Four-Day School Weeks on Student Achievement: Evidence from Oregon.”
Issue #1: Comparing Oregon to Texas in Terms of Instructional Minutes is Flawed
Before we even discuss the specific conclusions made by Paul Thompson in his study, we must deal with one specific reality first: Texas requires more annual instructional minutes than Oregon. Way more. And it’s not even close.
By law, students in Oregon are required to receive the following minimum hours of instructional time:
Grade 12: 966 hours
Grades 9-11: 990 hours
Grades K-8: 900 hours
In Texas, students are required to be in school for 75,600 minutes (Sec. 25.081 if you’re wanting to see the specifics).
If you convert Oregon’s requirements to minutes, you end up with:
Grade 12: 57,960 minutes
Grades 9-11: 59,400 minutes
Grades K-8: 54,000 minutes
The Committee Substitute version of Senator Campbell’s bill would require 7 hours of instruction each day (or 420 minutes). If we take the most minutes required in Oregon (grades 9-11) and compare that against the minutes required in Texas using this 420-minute benchmark, 9-11 students in Oregon are required to attend school 141 days where students in Texas are required to attend 180 days, a 39-day difference.
If you compare grades K-8, Oregon students are only required to attend 128.5 days compared to Texas students at, again, 180 days. That’s a little over 51 days difference.
Comparing student achievement results between two states when one state requires between 39 and 51 more instructional days (in terms of minutes) than the other state is the very definition of a false equivalence.
And this isn’t a new issue for Oregon. The length of Oregon’s school year has been in the news before.
Issue #2: The Oregon Study Attributes Instructional Time as the Primary Mechanism Driving Achievement
In his study, Paul Thompson references another study by Anderson and Walker (“Does shortening the school week impact student performance? Evidence from the four-day school week”) that analyzed student achievement in Colorado for schools that have implemented four-day weeks.
It would have been interesting if Senator Campbell would have included this study in the bill analysis considering Anderson and Walker found “a positive relationship between the four-day week and performance in reading and mathematics” and “there is little evidence that moving to a four-day week compromises student academic achievement.”
While Thompson’s study found a slight negative impact on student academic achievement in Oregon, he specifically addresses the different conclusions between his study and the study by Anderson and Walker:
“The results of Anderson and Walker (2015) suggest that positive achievement effects may be possible. So what might be underlying this difference in the achievement effects of four-day school weeks in Oregon and Colorado? (pg.21)”
His answer to that question?
“Given that I find that instructional time is the primary mechanism driving the achievement effects, one explanation for the differences in findings between the two studies may be that Colorado schools do a better job of minimizing instructional time reductions than Oregon schools when switching to these school schedules.”
And how does Colorado compare to Oregon when it comes to required instructional time?
Colorado requires 1,080 hours of instruction annually, or 64,800 minutes. This is more than Oregon (almost 13 days more for 9-11 students at 420 minutes each day) but less than Texas (just under 26 days less on a 420-minute day).
If Colorado four-day districts experienced a positive academic effect due to more instructional time, how much more could those gains be in Texas?
Issue #3: Texas Requires More Minutes/Hours Than Any State in the Country
According to the Instructional Times Policy study completed in 2023 by the Education Commission of the States, Texas is the only state that uses minutes in their language related to required instructional minutes. All other states either specify a number of days, a number of hours, or both.
If you compare the 36 states that specify a number of required instructional hours in their state’s laws (again, Texas is the only state that specifies minutes), Texas ranks at the very top for the required number of minutes, with Maryland coming in second at almost a full two weeks fewer required instructional minutes in terms of 420-minute days.
By this metric, another interesting study would be a comparison of the daily pay rate of teachers in Texas compared to other states considering the required instructional minutes is so much higher?
Could be an interesting discussion.
Issue #4: How Instructional Time is Spent is More Important Than How Much
The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), a non-profit education research group that has analyzed education systems across the globe for over 30 years. In a publication titled “How Much Time Do Students Spend in School in Top-Performing School Systems and the U.S.?,” the NCEE included data from top-performing countries that compared the number of days per year students are in school, how many weeks off students have, and the length of the average school day. Their data showed the following:
“There is no consistent pattern for number of days of school per year, length of school breaks, or even length of an average school day among top-performing education systems. This suggests that when it comes to student performance, more important than the amount of time students spend in class is how that time is spent.”
At the end of the day, Texas has routinely embraced the concept of local control. Local school boards, based on feedback from teachers, administrators, and community members, develop a calendar that works best for their community. If these calendars---regardless if those calendars utilize four-days a week or five---result in students achieving at lower levels, the community will push for a change.
Texas has one of the most rigorous accountability systems in the country. Districts, schools, and ultimately communities earn letter grades annually from TEA that demonstrate how districts and schools are serving students academically. Our accountability system in Texas is unbelievably complex, and it sheds light on almost all aspects of academic achievement in every school and district in the state.
If four-day weeks negatively impact students in Texas, we will find out. And districts and communities will adjust accordingly.