SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- On Monday the Warren County schools in Warrenton, Mo. became the largest district in Missouri to convert to a four-day school week.
That district, just west of St. Louis, has 3,000 students and will make the switch next year.
As many as 20 more districts in the Show-Me-State are currently considering the move according to the leading researcher on the topic, who just so happens to be located in downtown Springfield just off Park Central Square.
Dr. Jon Turner, an assistant professor at Missouri State in the Department of Counseling, Leadership and Special Education, maintains a neutral stance on whether four-day school weeks are preferable as does the state's Board of Education. That decision is up to the individual district, but Turner's research has been a valuable asset to anyone wanting to find out how those school districts who have made the change now view its effect on their community.
The reason Turner knows so much is that he's traveled to all 33 of the state's 518 school districts who've already made the change.
The group includes a few in the northern part of the state who did it primarily for budgetary reasons, a cluster to the west of St. Louis who made the move primarily because they were all in the same athletic conference, and then a large group in southwest Missouri who've found the new schedule greatly improved teacher morale.
"So many of these rural schools struggle to get highly-qualified teachers to not only come to their district but then to stay for many years to come," Turner explained. "So many administrators feel like that's been a great tool for them to recruit and retain teachers."
In discovering that students also supported the move, Turner's research also found another surprising outcome... a significant drop in discipline problems.
"I don't what the psychology is behind that but it's something that's surely reported," Turner said. "They have fewer disciplinary referrals, few fights and things like that on campus."
Turner found that both teachers and parents who experienced the four-day week now support the new schedule by an 80-90% margin. He also learned that school districts who tried to address parents concerns over finding child care for an extra day discovered that it turned out not to be a problem after all.
"They said they were always worried based on community feedback about child care," Turner recalled. "So they implemented child care and then nobody showed up."
Turner predicts the number of schools going to four-day weeks will continue to grow.
"I have no doubt we'll be at 50 by next year," he said.
He also predicts that more schools will take that fifth day not as a day-off, but as a chance to enhance their students opportunities.
"They'll go to school for four days and that fifth day becomes a career opportunity day, a job shadowing day, or a taking a college class day," he explained.
Turner said none of the school districts who've made the change have wanted to change back and that it's not unlike the reaction of the general public to the idea of a four-day work week.
"People are more energized," he said. "They feel like they're getting more bang-for-their-buck in a school day than they were in the traditional five-day calendar."