JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As Missouri students head back to the classroom for the new year, roughly one-quarter of the state’s school districts are only in session four days a week.
While shorter work weeks are helping districts recruit teachers, the state’s education department is leery of their long-term effects. Missouri’s top education leader, Margie Vandeven, is concerned about instructional time for students.
“It’s challenging to go back to a five-day [week] after you’ve had the four day [week],” Vandeven said.
In a state that is suffering a teacher shortage crisis, the effort to attract potential educators in Missouri is becoming more prevalent. The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education estimated around a 5.4% shortage in qualified teachers and full-time employees statewide in a December 2022 report.
“We are seeing an increase at the statewide level in the number of districts that are deciding to have a four-day school week,” Vandeven said.
Legislation passed in the late 2000s allowed schools to move to four-day weeks following the recession to help save money on things like fuel for buses.
“While it certainly could be a recruitment tool in the short term, it’s not a potentially sustainable recruitment tool if all the neighboring districts suddenly go to a four-day school week as well,” Vandeven said.
Last year, more than 140 public school districts in Missouri, an all-time high, implemented four-day school weeks. The Independence School District in the Kansas City area, which serves roughly 14,000 students, made the switch for this upcoming year and is the largest to do so to date.
“This is the first time we are seeing larger districts that are pursuing it,” Vandeven said. “We’ve seen a slight uptick in the percentage of students. I believe around 10% of our students are enrolled in a district that is offering a four-day week.”
This comes at a time when many districts are struggling to fill vacancies.
“We’re at a time in education when we’re looking at a need to increase our instructional time, so how are those districts using the hours of instruction? Are they spreading it out? Are they adding it to the end of the day? What does that look like?,” Vandeven said.
“Any profession seeing almost half of its population leave within the first five years of entering the field would be very concerned about that, as we are,” said Vandeven.
She says Missouri DESE is looking to study the impact a four-day week has on students, now that there has been an influx of districts implementing shortened weeks.