It's a trend: More schools going to four-day weeks

Published: Feb. 6, 2020 at 5:47 PM CST
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More and more school districts in Missouri are making the change from the traditional five-day schedule to a four-day week.

Just this week Aurora announced it will make the switch starting the next school year and Reeds Spring held a public forum on Thursday night to discuss the issue.

Missouri State professor Jon Turner has become the "go-to" expert for school districts considering a switch to four-day weeks.

He has spent years collecting data and visiting with school officials on the topic and tries to offer objective information for districts to consider in deciding whether or not to make the move.

On Thursday he was sitting in his office visiting with Aurora Superintendent Billy Redus, whose district announced this week that it was going to a four-day school week.

Aurora's change will involve students attending Monday through Thursday with forty minutes added to the standard day length (Pate-8:05 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., Robinson/JH/HS-7:50 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.).

A total of 1,089.9 hours will be completed during the 150-day schedule. An additional 12 days of professional development is included in the calendar and requires teachers to participate in activities on Fridays.

According to a press release from the Aurora school district the basis for the decision includes the following: increase in student attendance; decrease in student behavior referrals resulting in better engagement; increase in teacher recruitment and retention; decrease in the need for substitute teachers due to absences; and extended professional development time to construct effective instructional activities and review data pertaining to student achievement.

The release said concerns were discussed regarding the four-day school week but that the school board ultimately concluded that the benefits outweighed the negatives after four years of study.

During that time the number of Missouri schools going to four-day weeks has grown from 25 to 61 with 23 more expected next year.

"The pool has grown and the knowledge of what is going on has increased so much due to Dr. Turner's efforts," Redus said. "I think people are more educated."

Of the 518 districts in Missouri most of those who've made the switch are rural districts in the southwest and northeast part of the state. Turner has traveled more than 4,000 miles to research what works, what doesn't, and why it's a rural phenomenon.

"Every state west of the Mississippi allows for a four-day week," Turner said. "That is not the case east of the Mississippi. More than half the schools in the state of Colorado use the four-day school week. I think it is something that's embedded in the rural nature (where they deal with) large travel times and struggles to attract and retain teachers."

While Turner's research shows the four-day week hasn't saved district's much money in travel costs, it has had an affect on student morale, increasing attendance and decreasing trips to the principal's office.

"The biggest positive from my standpoint is student attendance and better engagement. These other districts have seen a drop in discipline referrals," Redus said. "They say students appear to be more motivated and encouraged to be at school."

"One of the things most commonly mentioned by school leaders is how the environment of the school really changes with the four-day week," Turner added. "Students seem to be better rested, they're very busy with sports and other activities and having that day built-in as a rest day, a day to catch-up on homework, they just seem to be less stressed."

Only one of the 61 districts that made the switch has gone back to a five-day schedule.

"Of the parents who tend to dislike the four-day week it is those parents who only have early childhood-aged kids, kindergarten through grade 2, and parents who have special education students. That's something that is concerning to me."

Turner has already started researching those concerns and says that as the second biggest school district in the state to make the switch, Aurora, with its 1,800 students, will be a critical benchmark for the future.

"I think a lot of districts that size are looking to them as an experiment to see if this is something that can be effective in a larger district," he said.

Currently Arkansas has only one school with a four-day week (Kirby near Hot Springs) but Turner said next year Norfork, Viola and Ozark Mountain Schools in St. Joe will be added to the list.