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 percent of the 581 school districts statewide, according to the Columbian Missourian.
The trend is more prevalent in rural districts, where fewer teachers and students make four-day weeks less complicated to arrange. But bigger schools may be making the change.
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.
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.
Persistent teacher shortages and complaints about salaries are drivers for the shorter week. Studies have shown that teacher morale improves when the work week gets shorter, as do recruitment and retention.
A Rand Corp. study published in August surveyed parents, students and teachers and found 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.
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.
In Harrisburg, administrators also noticed improvements in teacher recruitment and retention, particularly among high-quality teachers and staff.
Jon Turner, associate professor of special education, leadership and professional studies at Missouri State University, 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.”