More school districts in Missouri are switching to four-day week

4dayschoolweek

Lina Goyea, 11, stands in the doorway while Emmett Furlong, 4, plays with a toy on Oct. 9 in Sturgeon. “I wouldn’t trade this for anything,” Emily Goyea-Furlong said on the four-day school week as she puts clothes on Ruby Furlong, 16 months. “It’s a tight knit community, and there’s accommodations for people who need child care." | Kate Cassady/Columbia Missourian

Until eighth grade, Carter Bremer went to school on a standard five-day schedule. After moving to Harrisburg, he stopped going to class on Mondays.

Now a senior at Harrisburg High School, Carter has spent just four days a week in school for the past five years, giving him more time to spend on sports, a job and college-level classes.

“I have more free time to do more activities,” he said. “It definitely helps with that extra day to do schoolwork and get ahead on the next week.

The 2024 graduating class has never spent Mondays in the classroom. Since the 2011-2012 school year, the Harrisburg School District has operated with four-day weeks.

Harrisburg was among the first districts in Missouri to drop classes once a week, but this year, at least 160 public school districts are running four-day weeks, accounting for about 30% of the 581 school districts statewide.

The trend is more prevalent in rural districts, where fewer teachers and students make four-day weeks less complicated to arrange. But the tide may be turning.

In September, the Independence School District with nearly 14,000 students shifted to four-day weeks to combat a persistent teacher shortage. It became the largest school system in the state to make the switch.

Of the roughly 160 school districts that have shifted, only two have reverted to the five-day model. The Lutie R-IV School District south of Columbia switched in 2023 after three years and the Lexington School District in 2014 after two, both citing little academic improvement and limited financial return.

In Boone County, three of the six districts have adopted four-day weeks — Harrisburg, Hallsville and Sturgeon — and Centralia has a late start on Mondays. So far, the remaining two — Columbia Public Schools with more than 19,000 students and Southern Boone School District with about 2,000 — have indicated little interest in altering the school week.

Nationwide, an estimated 1,600 schools in 24 states have adopted a four-day school week, according to the most recent estimate from the Four-Day School Week policy research team at Oregon State University. Not every state has mandated reporting, however, so the numbers may be incomplete.

What the research shows

The shifts to four-day weeks are attributed primarily to persistent teacher shortages and complaints about salaries. Studies have shown that teacher morale improves when the work week gets shorter, as do recruitment and retention.

Parents also play a significant role in the success of any change, with some eager to have the flexibility, while others are anxious about arranging child care to cover an additional day.

A Rand Corp. study published in August surveyed parents, students and teachers and found that the four-day week had the most positive impact on family relationships and overall school satisfaction.

Student attendance improved slightly, but the difference was not statistically meaningful, and younger students reported getting more sleep, but middle and high school students did not.

According to the survey, four-day school districts were able to cut some costs by not operating on Fridays or Mondays, but the savings amounted to only a few percentage points in the annual budget.

Another study, conducted by the Center for School and Student Progress, found that fighting and assaults dropped by .79 incidents per 100 students, or 31%, after schools moved to a four-day week. Some of it was mechanical — students spending less time in school — but the study concluded that it didn’t account for all of it.

What parents say

Jon Turner, associate professor of special education, leadership and professional studies at Missouri State University, has conducted research to assess the growing trend in Missouri.

He traveled to 60 of 61 school districts that had a four-day week during the 2019-2020 school year, interviewing superintendents, principals, parents, teachers and students.

Turner found that parental support for four-day school weeks ranged from 70% to 80%. He said serious pushback from parents would likely have resulted in fewer school districts adopting the four-day week.

“If there is a negative reaction to the four-day week,” Turner said, “there’s a direct channel to school board members.”

Emily Goyea-Furlong, head of the Parent-Teacher Organization in Harrisburg, said she likes using Saturdays and Sundays as true days off with her family. Instead of treating Monday as another weekend day, Goyea-Furlong said she uses the time to schedule appointments on her family’s to-do list.

“We spend Mondays doing doctors’ appointments, vision appointments or those appointments you pull your kids out of school for on a regular five-day school week,” she said. “Then they don’t have to miss school during the week.”

Another Harrisburg parent, Dana Byrd, has a flexible work schedule and can spend Mondays with her fifth grader. But she said she knows day care facilities in Harrisburg are crowded on Mondays, and some parents have to commute to Columbia for child care.

“Day care gets to be a bit of a challenge for some families with younger kids,” Byrd said.

In Independence, the school district began offering its own child care for $30 a day, but that still could be a stretch for some families.

What teachers say

School districts in Missouri have the freedom to structure their calendar in a variety of ways. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, districts in Missouri can be flexible, as long as first through 12th grades maintain 1,044 instructional hours during the school year.

The Harrisburg School District operates on a Tuesday-through-Friday schedule from 7:54 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

“We did it back in 2011, 2012, when we were really struggling financially, like a lot of other schools were,” high school principal Kyle Fisher said. “We did it as a way to try and save money on transportation costs and hourly staff and utilities costs and things like that.”

The four-day week has been popular with teachers in Harrisburg who say they can use Monday as a planning day to map out the rest of the week. Some schools also schedule professional development activities for teachers on select Mondays.

Harrisburg teacher Jennie Simpson said the extra day gives her more time to develop hands-on, engaging lessons for students.

“It gives you the feel of having a full weekend,” Simpson said. “I think it decreases teacher burnout because you feel like you have more time to be prepared.”

What the numbers indicate

According to Turner, making the switch is almost always about money. School districts may be able to save $50,000 or more on transportation, custodial work, cafeteria set-up and other expenses.

“That ($50,000) may sound trivial,” Turner said. “But if you’re in a tiny little school district that only has nine or 10 teachers, saving $50,000 is one teacher’s salary.”

Salaries, especially in smaller, rural districts, influence teacher retention. New teachers typically start their careers in smaller districts after college, Turner said, eventually leaving those positions for a better salary in larger cities.

“They’re always looking for a job at Jefferson City or Columbia because the salaries are so much higher, and that happens all across the state,” Turner said. “You can travel 20, 30 miles outside Jefferson City and Columbia, and teachers with the same experience and same education can be making $15,000 or $20,000 less.”

Dale Herl, superintendent of the Independence School District, said he has seen a significant increase in teacher applications since the four-day policy was announced this summer.

“The number of our teacher applications increased by more than fourfold,” Herl said. “We are fully staffed with teachers here in the Independence School District, and it’s been a number of years since we’ve been able to say that.”

In Harrisburg, Fisher said he has also noticed improvements in teacher recruitment and retention, particularly among high-quality teachers and staff.

“The four-day school week was very attractive to a lot of teachers,” he said. “I think it allowed us to get a lot of high quality teachers for the district and keep a lot of high quality teachers in the district.”

Turner said teacher retention, primarily driven by inequity in salaries, is a driver of shift to the four-day school week. Until that is solved, Turner believes the four-day week policy will continue to gain traction in Missouri.

“This (four-day week) keeps rural schools in the game,” Turner said. “Until the state and decision-makers and legislature figure out ways that help rural school districts be competitive in the teaching job market, you’re going to continue to see schools transition to the four-day week.”

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