A four-day week makes good sense for many rural Missouri school districts

    With 25 percent of Missouri school districts—all of them rural—already using a four-day schedule (only one ever made the change and switched back), it looks like many others are going to consider the move. Cuba is considering it now and Steelville began discussing the change last week. Given recent discussions in St. James, it could easily wind up on the school board agenda there soon.

    Why the move? Basically it boils down to a way to attract and keep good teachers. Does it work? Some evidence suggests it does.
    Several area school districts, including Belle, Bourbon, and Viburnum have moved to a four-day week. Last year Bourbon saw a five percent turnover in teaching staff, while Cuba had 26 percent. While that’s one quick comparison, take into account that 90 percent of the staff in Cuba favors a four-day week.
    When given the choice between working in Cuba, Steelville, or St. James for less money than they could make in Rolla, Waynesville, or Sullivan, would they be less likely to leave for more money in exchange for more personal time off? Common sense says they would.
    One drawback often seen with the four-day model is that students would be getting fewer hours of instruction. That, however, is a myth.
    Missouri requires that all districts have classes for a minimum amount of hours each year. That, of course, breaks down to a certain number of minutes in class each day. Part of that day includes time lost for lunch, recess, restroom breaks, class changes, etc. Conservatively, that’s probably 45 minutes each day.
    If students are in class the same number of minutes per week using a four-day schedule (with a longer day) as they are using a five-day schedule, then one day of that lost time would be eliminated. So, in fact, students would actually gain 45 minutes of instructional time each week.
    Is that a reason to switch to a four-day week? Probably not.
    What about cost savings? School districts’ most obvious savings would be in transportation. Fuel costs alone would drop by 20 percent, which means a lot right now, but savings would also be realized through less wear and tear on busses (fewer tires bought, etc.), and even having to purchase new buses less frequently. There would also be savings in food costs and utilities.
    In total, those saving probably don’t amount to more than five percent of an annual budget, but when your budget is $16 million a year that’s no small consideration and it would free up money to help pay teachers (and support staff) better as a further incentive to remain in a district.
    Is that a reason to switch to a four-day week? Maybe.
    During the Cuba School Board presentation on the pros and cons of a four-day week, there was one thing that stood out as the most important reason to make the change from a five-day week—teacher retention.
    You simply can’t ignore that 90 percent of the staff wants the change (along with about 75 percent of parents). And of those, at least two have told the superintendent they had planned to seek jobs elsewhere, but would probably stay if they only had to work four days.
    Consider, too, that last year Cuba had a difficult time replacing many of the teachers who left, with two counselor positions getting no applicants and seven positions getting fewer than two. And even when more than two had applied for positions, many had already accepted other offers before the district could even interview them.
    Is attracting and keeping good teachers a reason to switch to a four-day week? Absolutely.
    It’s even more important when you consider it is generally accepted that new teachers—even experienced ones who move into a new position—don’t become skilled at instructing students in a specific grade or subject for three years. And as one final bonus, the four-day week provides much more time for teacher training, with up to 10 days of training per year comparted to two or fewer now.
    More instructional time, cost savings, more teacher training, and keeping and attracting good teachers—it’s no wonder numerous small school district who can’t afford to pay their teachers better are considering the move to a four-day week. Those that make the change will have a competitive advantage, at least until they all do it.