Shorter weeks and longer weekends have become a reality for many in Missouri.
Over 25% of school districts in Missouri switched to a four-day school week since 2008. Only one has reverted.
“Districts started using the four-day week for financial savings. But the reasons for transitioning have changed over the past few years,” said Dr. Jon Turner.
Turner is an associate professor of counseling, leadership and special education (CLSE) at Missouri State University.
Shorter weeks bring positive changes
Districts primarily transition to shorter weeks to combat teacher shortages.
“Less than half of Missouri teachers remain in the field after the first five years of teaching, according to a recent report,” Turner said.
“The four-day week helps schools attract and retain teachers.”
And for good reason: Faculty and staff reported that shorter weeks improve morale and the academic quality of their teaching, according to a study Turner conducted with CLSE colleagues Dr. Ximena Uribe-Zarain and Dr. Kim Finch.
More benefits include:
- Higher attendance rates among students.
- More time for teachers to plan, collaborate and train.
- Better “work/life balance” for teachers and students.
- An extra day for students to seek opportunities, such as job shadowing, dual credit programs and volunteering.
Though there is research that raises concerns about impacts on student achievement, as Turner notes, “the number of instructional minutes is what’s important to student learning. Both four-day and traditional weeks have 1,044 hours of instruction.”
Additionally, school faculty and staff have more time to work on their professional development.
Missouri State’s Pathways for Paraprofessionals program allows para educators to pursue a degree and certification in special education while they are employed.
In districts using the four-day week, paras can use the fifth day to work on their coursework for their degree and certification.
Barriers of the four-day school week
Despite the benefits, shortened school weeks can pose challenges.
“Some families struggle to find childcare for their children on the weekday school isn’t in session,” Turner said. “This mostly affects families who only have elementary-aged children and families with students receiving special education services.”
To help families with their childcare needs, some districts offer school-operated childcare for the fifth weekday.
Other concerns include:
- Reduced access to school lunches.
- More time over the weekend for students to forget what they learned.
- Increased risk to children’s safety on the weekday without school.
Turner said his research indicates most parents do not hold these concerns.
“Overall, parents tend to support the four-day week. But we need to pay special attention to those families with unique challenges,” he said.