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Four-Day School Week Faces Scrutiny from Missouri Officials

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education finds little to no learning loss after the switch to a four-day week.

Sen. Doug Beck
Sen. Doug Beck, D-Affton, speaks during Tuesday's discussion of an open enrollment bill in the Senate education and workforce development committee.
(Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent)
With more Missouri school districts switching to four-day weeks — including some of the largest — education leaders and state legislators are raising concerns.

Four-day weeks have been an option for Missouri schools since 2011, and now over 30 percent of the state’s districts have adopted this shortened week — serving around 11 percent of the state’s students. Many of the districts are in rural parts of the state.

Some state lawmakers, concerned with the shortened schedule, are pushing bills to reign in the practice. And on Tuesday, the State Board of Education was originally scheduled to review a study on the four-day school week, though that has been delayed due to possible inclement weather.

The study concludes that, overall, the four-day schedule had “no statistically significant effect on either academic achievement or building growth.” Academic achievement looks at one year of scores whereas building growth compares students scores over time.

Schools that adopted a four-day school week both before and after the pandemic were included in the study. Data is limited on recent adopters like the Independence School District, which made the switch this year, but the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is seeing trends.

Districts that switched before the pandemic were more likely to be rural, whereas districts embracing four-day weeks now are likely to be in towns, have multiracial populations and have more foster students, according to the report.

Jon Turner, an associate professor at Missouri State University who researches the four-day school week, was not surprised that the department found little to no effect on academic achievement.

“It is pretty consistent nationwide,” he told The Independent. “As you protect instructional hours, there is a minimal if any negative academic impact.”

The research he has studied has shown that the four-day week does not diminish academics so long as the instructional hours remain constant. Currently, state law requires 1,044 hours in school.

Legislation


Three bills have already been filed this legislative session that focus on the length of school weeks, coming from both sides of the aisle.

Sen. Doug Beck, an Affton Democrat, got an amendment approved in the Senate last year that would have required a local vote to authorize a four-day school week. This year, Beck has a bill that would allow towns with fewer than 30,000 residents to adopt a four-day school week by a vote of the school board, as is law now, but larger cities would have to seek voter approval.

“I’ve talked to my colleagues, and they said in the rural area, they didn’t want to have the five-day part,” Beck told The Independent. “This would still allow them to do that. But if you’re in (larger areas), you still could go four days. You just have to get the vote of the people.”

Republican Rep. Aaron McMullen and Democratic Rep. Robert Sauls — both from Independence, where the school district made headlines with its switch to a four-day week — filed similar bills.

McMullen is worried for the families in his city coordinating daycare and other services with an extra day off.

“My main concern is the economic impact that it has on the city,” he told The Independent. “Essentially, we’re giving less services but still charging the same amount of tax.”

Turner said that while there is not a negative academic outcome, the effect on families varies situationally. Schools providing special education are required to keep the hours of intervention specified in students’ individualized learning plan, which is a document that outlines accommodations and goals. But some students receiving these services may miss the fifth day.

“I do believe that we should get involved,” McMullen said. “But we should be able to give the ability for people to actually have the final say on it. We’re trying to empower the people that live in the school district to have the final say on whether or not they should go to four days.”

McMullen’s bill mirrors Beck’s by only requiring a public vote in larger localities.

But Beck’s and Sauls’ bills would provide incentives for districts that choose a five-day week. Districts with at least 175 school days can choose their school year’s start date, an option not available since the 2020-21 school year.

Their legislation also calls for the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to pay districts with at least 169 school days a two percent bonus, calculated by the previous year’s state aid, to go toward boosting teacher salaries.

Beck said this provision gets to the heart of the issue: Recruiting and retaining teachers.

“The main reason why we have school districts going four days is not because of children learning better or any study that they’ve done,” he said. “The original thing was they couldn’t keep teachers, and this was to bring teachers in.”

When the Independence School District announced its switch, Superintendent Dale Herl said in an introductory video that the four-day week was to maintain a workforce.

The Cause


Turner, who also serves on the board of the Missouri Association of Rural Education, told The Independent the four-day week is born from the educator hiring struggles Missouri districts are facing, particularly in rural areas.

“Never when I met any of those superintendents when I said, ‘Why did you do this?’ Not one said we wanted to do this. This was a part of a bigger vision,” he said. “This is a symptom of what schools are having to do to keep educators in classrooms teaching.”

In December, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education told the state board that nearly a quarter of student teachers are the teacher of record for their classroom — meaning the class doesn’t have a certified teacher overseeing that student.

Turner said salaries for experienced teachers can vary greatly within a 30-mile radius, incentivizing educators to drive out of their rural town of residence and teach where they are better compensated.

To compete, the rural districts can utilize a four-day school week as an incentive for their workforce to stay.

“You’ve got wealthier, typically suburban, larger school districts that are able to out-compete in the job marketplace for your applicants, so you have this constant turnover in the small rural schools,” Turner said. “That’s what this four-day week is showing is that it is really the only arrow that rural school districts have in their quiver to fight the higher paying salaries.”

School districts on Missouri’s border face competition across state lines, Turner said. Arkansas increased its minimum teacher salary to $50,000 beginning last July.

Missouri lawmakers have proposed hikes to teacher wages and other benefits, though few passed last year.

McMullen, though he didn’t include the teacher-wage incentive in his bill, said he is in favor of increasing teacher pay.

“We need to allocate more money to public schools but have that actually go to teacher salaries and not to administration,” he said.

Beck hopes the legislature will discuss issues like teacher wages, like a bill that would increase the base teacher salary. He thinks there is enough interest to get the legislation through, though it may have to be an amendment to a larger bill.

“I truly have some really good bipartisan support on this bill, maybe more on the Republican side,” he said.

McMullen feels similarly, saying it is difficult to pass a standalone bill through the Senate.

“We have a very, very good chance of getting this bill and some aspects passed this year.”


This article was first published by the Missouri Independent. Read the original article here.
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