A school district in Missouri has adopted a four-day school week, with a "mixed" response from parents.
On Dec. 13, the Independence School District school board voted 6-1 to shorten the school week to four days. Beginning in the 2023-24 school year, students in grades pre-K to 12 will attend classes from Tuesday to Friday, with each school day extended by 35 minutes per day.
The district says the move is necessary because of teacher shortages and a lack of enough support staff, including paraprofessionals, bus drivers and custodians. Some parents — particularly those who work five days a week — are uneasy or downright unhappy about the move, while other moms and dads are welcoming the change.
"Anytime something is new, there is hesitancy," Independence School District Superintendent Dale Herl tells TODAY.com.
During the coming academic year, Mondays will be reframed as a voluntary day of learning. The district will offer student courses ranging from academic enrichment — such as field trips, tutoring, clubs and sports — or remediation. District transportation will be provided for some, but not all, programs on Mondays, and child care will be available at local elementary schools for a fee. The district also says it plans to continue offering reduced-price or free lunches on Mondays, although logistics have not been finalized.
Teachers won't be required to work Mondays, but those who do will receive additional pay.
"A four-day school week isn't that unique," says Herl. According to the journal Education Finance and Policy, 1,600 schools in 24 states offer four-day school weeks.
Teacher shortages and poor teacher retention rates in Missouri prompted the shortened school week, Herl says.
According to the Missouri Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE), enrollment rates for teaching professional programs have decreased by more than 25 percent over the past decade. Meanwhile, over a six-year period, the rate at which teachers left the profession reached 11 percent.
"In short, too many teachers leave the profession, and there are fewer teachers available to replace them," noted DESE. "As a result, when schools cannot find teachers, they are forced to leave positions vacant or fill vacant positions with teachers who aren’t certified for that content area."
The school district says a four-day school week serves families and teachers with better work-life or school-life balance.
Herl explained in an October district video that before voting, families, staff and students were polled for their views on a four-day school week.
According to a district presentation shared with TODAY.com, “68.9 percent of families supported using the four-day school week in the future," but Herl says some feel “mixed" about the new schedule.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas raised concerns about the initiative in a recent Facebook post.
"Salary increases and support are the best way to get teachers, not gimmicks," he wrote. "I’m concerned this is more about adults than the best for our kids. I hope I am wrong."
Anthony Mondaine, a school board member for the Independence School District and a pastor, voted against the measure.
"Many parents are upset about this," he tells TODAY.com, adding that some community members feel the district survey was not comprehensive enough to cast an informed opinion.
"(Some) have talked about exploring other school districts or leaving the community" in response to the four-day week, he adds.
Working or single parents, including those without child care, will have to scramble to compensate for the day off, he says.
Angie Judy, a district parent who says she used to work as a teacher in the Independence School District teacher, tells TODAY.com the four-day plan complicates her current job as a real estate agent.
"I have a flexible schedule except when I'm showing homes, and my mother isn't retired yet (so she can't provide child care)," she says. "My concern is largely for others in that a free public education will now cost money."
According to Judy, some district parents are weighing their options.
"The messages I have been getting are, 'Do we protest, picket or send our kids elsewhere?'" she says.
Local parent Mackenzie Harris, whose son no longer attends school in the Independence School District, tells TODAY.com, "I’m scared that the surrounding districts will follow ISD. This is not what the students need!"
Research has indicated the pros and cons to a shorter school week, some of which were highlighted in a 2021 study by the nonprofit RAND Corporation.
- On average, students have longer but fewer school days, along with fewer hours of instruction over a school year.
- More free time for students.
- A belief among parents, teachers, principals and students that students learn "just as much or slightly more" in a four-day school week compared to a traditional week "and that the difference in minutes of instructional time had no real effect on student achievement."
- Improved week-day sleep for elementary school children with no difference in sleep for middle and high school students.
"The responsibility for all this will likely fall on someone's aging grandmother who has to take care of a child because their parents have to work," Mondaine says.