Missouri Legislature and Education Board Question Four-Day School Week

A growing number of school districts in Missouri, including some of the largest ones, are transitioning to four-day school weeks. This shift has raised concerns among education leaders and state legislators.

The option for a four-day week has been available to Missouri schools since 2011, and currently over 30% of the state’s districts have adopted this shortened week, serving approximately 11% of the state’s students. Many of these districts are located in rural areas.

In response to the shortened schedule, some state lawmakers are introducing bills to regulate the practice. The State Board of Education was supposed to review a study on the four-day school week, but the meeting has been postponed due to potential inclement weather.

The study’s findings indicate that the four-day schedule does not have a statistically significant impact on academic achievement or building growth. Academic achievement is assessed based on one year of scores, while building growth compares students’ scores over time.

The study included schools that implemented the four-day week before and after the pandemic. Data is limited for recently adopted schedules, such as the Independence School District, which made the switch this year. However, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has identified trends among districts.

According to the report, districts that transitioned before the pandemic were more likely to be rural, while current adopters of the four-day week tend to be in towns with multiracial populations and more foster students.

Jon Turner, an associate professor at Missouri State University who specializes in four-day school week research, is not surprised by the study’s findings regarding academic achievement.

“It is pretty consistent nationwide,” he stated. “As long as instructional hours are protected, there is minimal to no negative academic impact.”

Turner’s research demonstrates that the four-day week does not compromise academics if the instructional hours remain consistent. Currently, Missouri state law requires schools to provide 1,044 hours of instruction.

Legislation

During this legislative session, three bills have already been introduced regarding the length of school weeks, originating from both sides of the political spectrum.

Sen. Doug Beck, a Democrat from Affton, successfully proposed an amendment in the Senate last year that would have mandated a local vote to authorize a four-day school week. This year, Beck has a new bill that permits towns with fewer than 30,000 residents to adopt a four-day week through a school board vote. However, larger cities would require voter approval.

“I’ve spoken with my colleagues, and they indicated that in rural areas, they didn’t want the five-day week,” Beck explained to The Independent. “This would allow them to maintain the four-day week. In larger areas, you could still opt for four days, but you need the approval of the people.”

Republican Rep. Aaron McMullen and Democratic Rep. Robert Sauls, both representing Independence, have introduced similar bills. McMullen is concerned about the impact on families in his city who need to coordinate daycare and other services with an additional day off.

“My main concern is the economic impact it has on the city,” McMullen expressed. “Essentially, we’re providing fewer services but charging the same amount of tax.”

While the academic outcomes do not show negative effects, the impact on families varies depending on the situation. Schools providing special education must adhere to the specified intervention hours in students’ individualized learning plans, but some students receiving these services may miss the fifth day.

“I believe that we should become involved,” McMullen stated. “However, we should allow residents of the school district to have the final say. We want to empower people to determine whether they should switch to a four-day week.”

McMullen’s bill, like Beck’s, only requires a public vote in larger localities.

However, Beck’s and Sauls’ bills offer incentives for districts that choose a five-day week. Districts with at least 175 school days are granted the flexibility to determine their school year’s start date, a freedom that hasn’t been available since the 2020-21 school year.

Their legislation also proposes a two percent bonus, based on the previous year’s state aid, to be allocated to districts with at least 169 school days. This bonus would be provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and would contribute to boosting teacher salaries.

Beck believes this provision addresses the core issue of recruiting and retaining teachers.

“The main reason why school districts transition to four days is not because children learn better or due to any specific study,” he explained. “The initial motivation was the difficulty in retaining teachers, and this change was intended to attract teachers.”

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

The underlying cause

Turner, who is also a member of the Missouri Association of Rural Education board, informed The Independent that the four-day week is a response to the challenges Missouri districts face in hiring educators, particularly in rural areas.

“Whenever I asked any of those superintendents why they made this change, none of them said they wanted to do it. It was part of a bigger vision,” he explained. “This shift is a symptom of what schools have had to do in order to retain educators in the classroom.”

In December, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education informed the state board that nearly a quarter of student teachers serve as the primary teacher in their classrooms, meaning they lack a certified instructor overseeing their work.

Turner highlighted the significant variation in salaries for experienced teachers within a 30-mile radius, leading educators to commute out of their rural hometowns in search of better compensation.

In order to compete, rural districts may adopt a four-day school week as an incentive to retain their workforce.

“Wealthier, usually suburban, larger school districts have the ability to outperform smaller rural schools in the job market for applicants, resulting in constant turnover in rural schools,” Turner said. “The four-day week is the one option rural school districts have to counter the higher salaries offered elsewhere.”

Missouri’s bordering school districts face competition from neighboring states. For example, Arkansas increased its minimum teacher salary to $50,000 starting last July.

Missouri lawmakers have proposed increases in teacher salaries and other benefits, although few bills were passed last year specifically targeting these issues.

McMullen, even though his bill does not include a teacher-wage incentive, expressed his support for increasing teacher pay.

“We need to allocate more funding to public schools, particularly for teacher salaries and not administrative costs,” he stated.

Beck hopes that the legislature will address issues such as teacher wages, possibly through a bill that raises the base teacher salary. He believes there is enough interest to pass such legislation, although it might need to be included as an amendment to a larger bill.

“I truly have strong bipartisan support for this bill, especially from the Republican side,” Beck noted.

McMullen shares similar sentiments, stating that passing a standalone bill in the Senate is challenging.

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

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