Growing Number of Missouri School Districts Enact a Four-Day Week as the Teacher Shortage Rages On

The widespread change appears indicative of a bigger academic issue

Missouri+school+districts+are+able+to+utilize+the+four-day+week+due+to+a+2009+mandate+stating+that+schools+must+maintain+a+minimum+1%2C044+hours+of+instruction.+This+enables+districts+to+subtract+a+day+each+week%2C+thus+compensating+for+missed+time+by+adding+an+extra+35+minutes+to+each+school+day.+

Kay Copeland

Missouri school districts are able to utilize the four-day week due to a 2009 mandate stating that schools must maintain a minimum 1,044 hours of instruction. This enables districts to subtract a day each week, thus compensating for missed time by adding an extra 35 minutes to each school day.

This academic year, 1-in-4 Missouri school districts will attend class only four days a week. According to data compiled by Missouri State University, over 140 districts statewide are utilizing a shortened week – an increase of more than 100 in the last four years. 

The reason for this paradigm shift is not shocking, and it boils down to the fact that Missouri cannot keep teachers in classrooms. 

“My district is very short staffed due to being in such a small town. Our teachers are very dedicated to our school, however last year we had three teachers resign for unknown reasons,” explains senior Rylee Dreisewerd, a student in the rural Newburg School District

Newburg houses a total enrollment of 408 with all K-12 students in the same building. The district voted to enact a four-day schedule beginning this year with classes in session Tuesday-Friday. 

“Our teachers throughout the whole school voted on this decision,” Dreisewerd elaborates. “I feel the teachers are more well-rested throughout the week and more motivated.” 

Teacher retention is the main motivator behind this schedule shift. Thus far, it’s proven to be a sweepingly successful strategy of which has grown exponentially in the last decade, primarily across Missouri’s rural school districts. 

I don’t think the four-day school week is a vision of where schools wanted to go, it’s what they’ve been forced to do by the circumstances that they have.”

— Jon Turner, Missouri State University associate professor

The urban Independence School District recently dominated headlines after voting to enact a four-day school week, becoming the latest and largest Missouri district to do so. With an enrollment over 14,600, Independence nearly quintupled the previous enrollment record of 3,108 held by the Warren County School District. 

As the popularity of the four-day week grows, the severity of the teacher shortage grows alongside it. Missouri continues to rank 50th in the nation for average teacher starting salaries, and 47th for overall teacher salaries. As a result, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) estimates there are 3,000 positions in Missouri schools that are either vacant or filled by someone not qualified this school year.

The teacher shortage and factors thereof continue to run rampant in the state, and such explains the appeal of the four-day week in the eyes of both educators and administrators. Missouri State University associate professor, Jon Turner, explains to NPR how he believes the two directly correlate. 

“I don’t think the four-day school week is a vision of where schools wanted to go, it’s what they’ve been forced to do by the circumstances that they have.” Turner continues, “And so policymakers in the state of Missouri are going to have to figure out ways to attract more people into the teaching career, because this is a crisis. And again, the four-day school week is a symptom of these challenges that these schools are facing.”

1-in-4 Missouri school districts have adopted a four-day week, a number of which has grown exponentially in recent years. (Jon Turner)

Shortened weeks are being used as a perk to hire and retain teachers, though it may not remain a useful strategy if participating districts continue to grow in quantity. DESE Chief Communications Officer Mallory McGowin explains how implementing a four-day week could grow to be a counterproductive approach in years to come. 

“We understand that teacher recruitment and retention is in a crisis level.” McGowin affirms, “But here’s the problem, when so many school districts in a particular area start to do it, it’s not really a recruitment and retention strategy anymore.”

Dreisewerd elaborates upon this point: while the four-day week may seem like a foolproof solution to keep teachers in the building, there are a number of cons to consider. She has witnessed many shortcomings in her own district within mere months that the modified schedule was implemented. 

“Parents are having to keep children at home while they’re at work, or having to find additional childcare. Some children may not be able to receive food on days school is not in session,” Dreisewerd details. “I also know parents who feel this is setting children up to have a weaker work ethic due to less time committed at school, while at a job you may have to work more than a four-day week.”

Another con that Dreisewerd specifies is the inconvenience of longer school days. This factor is seen amongst all districts with shortened weeks, and it’s a direct result of the reason why four-day weeks are even a considerable option. Missouri school districts are not required to be in session for a minimum number of days, according to a 2009 mandate stating that schools must maintain a minimum 1,044 hours of instruction. This enables districts to subtract a day each week, thus compensating for missed time by adding an extra 35 minutes to each school day. 

Senior Rylee Dreisewerd of the Newburg School District checks her academic schedule. Each Monday is marked as a “Blue Day,” signifying her weekly day off. “I’ve noticed a lot of positive effects having a four day week, such as helping teachers prepare lessons, providing more rest for students and teachers, and it’s cost effective for the school,” Dreisewerd shares. (Kay Copeland)

With the revamping of any district schedule comes a prominent learning curve – such can be seen with Dreisewerd’s experience in rural Newburg. Though as the urban Independence School District begins a four-day schedule next year, many unanswered questions remain as to how a district of milestone stature will adapt to a model made popular by smaller districts. 

“I believe it will be a challenge for a much larger district such as Independence to adapt to this new schedule, due to having more factors to consider when it comes to many different matters,” Dreisewerd states. “Although, I believe this will help the school district with their budget, keep teachers involved, and maintain morale among students.”

Aside from first-hand experience, studies have shown that schools with four-day weeks see less academic growth over time, especially in urban areas. Oregon State University and NWEA researchers claim that the effect gets worse the more years a school meets only four days per week. 

All eyes are on Independence as they undertake what no Missouri school district of such stature ever has. The appeal of the four-day week is not projected to dwindle in popularity any time soon, and if all goes according to plan for Independence, an influx of heavily-populated school districts could very well follow in their footsteps.