Public school districts are perpetually wrestling with the slippery demon that is the education budget. The creature manifests in many ways, but one incarnation that can pop up is the decision to shift from regular, five-day-a-week schedules to a system of four long days. This cuts back on transportation costs (buses run one day fewer) and smaller overhead expenditures (the cafeteria remains closed an additional day). A main concern, however, that given the extra day out of the classroom, lessons will seep from students’ memories and ultimately undermine the whole point of the school thing.

There had been few empirical studies that examined the potential effects of a shortened week, until D. Mark Anderson, an economics professor at Montana State University, teamed up with Georgia State University econometrics professor and education expert Mary Beth Walker to analyze the test scores of fourth and fifth graders in Colorado.

Colorado has one of the largest proportions of students with shorter school weeks — 30 percent of districts, though this reflects only 3 percent of students, as such programs tend to be in small, rural, and less affluent areas. In a paper published in July in the journal Education Finance and Policy, the economists gently put some of these worries to rest, with attendant qualifications. By comparing the state-wide Colorado Student Assessment Program exams for students in traditional schools and those in four-day-a-week programs, the researchers discovered that math scores unexpectedly improved in the four-day schools.

Anderson isn’t entirely sure why this works out: “We are unable to pin down the mechanism as to why students performed better when switched to the 4-day school week,” he tells Inverse. “Anecdotally, it could be a number of reasons. Some have conjectured that longer class periods give teachers flexibility to organize lessons more effectively and incorporate varied teaching methods. Teachers may be able to manage their time better because their instruction is more focused and longer lesson blocks enhance curriculum continuity. The shortened school week could also reduce teacher turnover and absenteeism.”

Adults seem to like the program — teachers have more time to plan lessons, and it has appeal to potential teachers. What about thinking of the kids? In rural areas, students might have to travel further to get to school, so this cuts down on commute time, says Anderson. Plus, there’s limited evidence that student attendance goes up in shorter weeks, but the economist cautioned the data is “weak.”

Likewise, the authors are careful to say that though this appears to work in rural districts, this might not hold true in more populous areas, where finding daycare on an off-day could be more expensive or tougher to find.

Outside the realm of education, a recent push for a four-day-work week has made common champions out of the likes of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. In the long run, mental overexertion doesn’t pay off. Plus, as Anderson points out, “Happy workers are more likely to be more productive workers.”

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