The Four-Day School Week: Not a Bandwagon We Should Jump On

Public schools have long been a backbone to our nation. As a cornerstone for local communities, public schools have helped prepare a skilled workforce essential for manufacturing; they’ve also produced doctors, lawyers, academics, and others essential to a healthy and thriving society.

The first public school of record was the Boston Latin School, established in 1635. Still in existence today, it is currently ranked the #1 high school in Massachusetts and #48 in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report.

While we have an educational system that has led the world in many arenas, our public schools often face stiff challenges: Their budgets are stretched too thin while costs continue to rise. Expectations and accountability continue to remain front and center in an ever-changing political climate. There aren’t enough highly-qualified teachers, particularly in shortage areas such as math, science, special education, and English language learning. As a result, some school districts have been forced to find ways to serve students and yet remain fiscally solvent. Enter the four-day school week.

Which Schools Use a Shortened Week the Most?

Approximately 560 school districts in 25 states have moved to a four-day school week. Most of the schools are small and are located in rural areas. Within the past few years some larger urban districts have begun experimenting with a shorter school week, but those numbers are small compared to rural counterparts. In five states (Colorado, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, and New Mexico) at least 20% of schools within each of those five states have adopted a shortened school week model.

However, if we look at the actual number of school districts, then the state leaders for four-day weeks are Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma and Oregon. Colorado has the largest proportion of public-school districts with one or more schools on a four-day week at 98. Missouri currently has 28 schools on a four-day schedule.

How is a Four-Day School Week Implemented? 

The most common model is to adhere to a Monday through Thursday schedule. Most states require a minimum number of days and instructional contact hours in each school year; schools that have adopted a four-day week simply reconfigure their schedules to fit the required contact hours into a shorter time span. This can make for a very long school day, particularly for students who have a long bus ride to and from home. In some instances, students have a 90-minute bus ride each morning and again each evening.

How Big are the Savings to School Districts?

According to a report from the Education Commission of the States (ECS), national finance data concludes that the actual savings for districts that moved to a four-day week were between 0.4% and 2.5%. Depending on the size of the district, savings on bus transportation, building utilities, and custodial services could be significant enough for superintendents to seriously consider this model, particularly in states that have cut funding for P-12 schools. However, no savings are noted for staff salaries and benefits, given that staff must still work the same number of hours per school year.

What’s the Impact on Teacher Recruitment & Retention?

Based on a perception study conducted by Turner, Finch, & Ximena, school staff tend to like the convenience of a shortened work week despite a longer work day. This could potentially serve as a drawing card to attract applicants particularly in high-demand areas such as math, science, special education, and English Language Learners. However, very little formal research has been conducted on four-day school weeks, so the long-term impact on teacher supply and demand remains to be seen.

But What About Impact on Students?

Health & Safety: While some stay-at-home parents/guardians indicate they like having one day per week to schedule doctor appointments and run errands, those who work outside the home often feel frustrated by having to find childcare for one full day per week, plus the cost of paying for such care. In many instances when proper adult care isn’t available students are left home alone unsupervised, putting their health and safety at risk.

Nutrition: The vast majority of students in those 28 Missouri districts that have opted for the shortened week qualify for free or reduced lunches because of their family’s low income. In many cases, the only nutritious meals those students eat are eaten at school.

Juvenile Delinquency: When students are not in school and unsupervised, crime rates tend to rise, particularly vandalism. In their research, Fischer and Argyle (2018) analyzed crime reports in Colorado and found a 20% increase in juvenile crime.

Student Learning and Achievement: Very little quality research has been conducted on the long-term academic impact of a shortened school week, so the field is ripe for study. State departments of education should be very cautious when approving requests for a shortened school week and should monitor performance closely over time. A starting point is to focus in on one state at a time and track various data points longitudinally. To that end, some insights can be gleaned about the 28 Missouri school districts that have elected to adopt a four-day week schedule based on an analysis of data publicly available from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE):

  • Out of the 28 Missouri school districts on a four-day schedule, only 1 received full accreditation with no sanctions during their last Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP) accreditation site visit.
  • Five out of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 1 sanctions, meaning officials must adopt a District Improvement Plan designed to improve key areas of concern. Annual Performance Reviews (APRs) will be monitored closely by state department officials.
  • Three of the 28 districts received District Improvement Level 2 sanctions, citing a higher level of concern by MSIP teams. Level 2 schools are under even greater scrutiny to demonstrate growth and improvement.
  • Thirteen out of 28—that’s more than 46%–of the school districts on a four-day schedule received District Improvement Level 3 sanctions – the most severe of all sanctions while still maintaining accreditation. In these cases, the last MSIP accreditation review revealed numerous serious concerns relative to program quality, student achievement, and other related indicators.
  • Of those 13 districts earning Level 3 sanctions, only two exceeded the 2018 Missouri per-pupil expenditure average. The remaining 26 school districts all are currently spending less than the state average per pupil. While not conclusive, these data suggest there is a correlation between the amount of funding school districts receive and student achievement.

So, what’s the bottom line?

A well-educated society is essential to a healthy, thriving culture. Without a solid educational foundation our skilled workforce will diminish, and entrepreneurs will look elsewhere. Our pool of thought-leaders and problem solvers will decrease, and over time the strength of our nation will be challenged.

Given the important role that our public schools have played in our nation’s success, it is imperative that we continue to recognize the need to fully fund them. School officials should not be forced into making tough choices that could jeopardize learning. Every single student in the United States deserves an educational experience that is second to none, regardless of the color of his skin, the native language spoken in her home, or the zip code in which they live. Every. Single. Student.

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in quality assurance, educator preparation, and empowerment-based learning. She supports educational institutions and non-profit agencies in areas such as accreditation, competency-based education, and teacher/school leader prep programs design.  Roberta also writes about academic excellence and can be contacted for consultations, webinars, and on-site workshops through her site (www.robertarossfisher.com).

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Rural Schools: Let’s Talk Teacher Shortages and What to Do About Them.

Recruitment. Salaries. Culture Shock. Retention. These are all factors that contribute to nationwide shortages of teachers—particularly challenging in areas of high demand, such as mathematics, science, special education, English language learning, and the like. While we commonly read about and focus on solutions to meet demand in urban settings, educational reformers and policy makers need to also consider how best to meet demand in rural areas. While there are some commonalities, the solutions are not one and the same.

Recruitment. As with urban districts, rural schools often have difficulty in recruiting qualified applicants for teaching positions. In some areas, school officials won’t receive a single applicant for a given position. Part of the problem is getting the word out—many rural school districts still rely on word-of-mouth, or publication in the local newspaper, or posting on the school’s website–but there are other factors that contribute to recruitment issues such as low salaries, few cultural opportunities, and feelings of isolation for individuals who may not have family ties to a given area. Plus, it’s likely that every other district in that area is also trying to recruit for the same positions, so there’s a competition factor at play as well.

Salaries. In some areas, a district’s salary scale is so low that teachers’ own children qualify for free or reduced lunch, due in part because of the declining number of local businesses and industries that contribute to the tax base. Less industry means less revenue generated in taxes, both from business owners and from their employees—who support local schools through real estate taxes. Moreover, principals and superintendents can’t always hire the “best” candidate or the most highly qualified candidate—because their salary budget is so limited, they often have to hire someone fresh out of college with no experience, primarily because they can pay that person less money than someone with 10 years of experience and a master’s degree. Plus, teachers already employed in a district have little incentive to go back to school and earn an advanced degree—in some rural districts teachers have received a total increase of $250 for earning a master’s degree—which is spread out over 12 months and subject to tax withholdings.

Culture Shock. When I was in school, it was easy to spot teachers who weren’t from my area—they dressed differently; they spoke differently; and they weren’t related to anyone I knew. And, more often than not, they didn’t drive a pickup truck—a dead giveaway that they were not local. With very few exceptions, those teachers never stayed long—after a year or two at the most they moved on—usually back to where they went to college or where they had family. I recall one high school teacher who packed up and left after one quarter—she had a bachelor’s degree and her state teacher certification but she was not prepared for such a cultural shock. I still think about her to this day, wondering if she ever recovered and returned to another classroom.

Retention. Retaining teachers after they’ve been hired is an ongoing challenge in every school district. Some teachers just job hop—for various reasons they like moving around. Others feel as though they have been treated unfairly for one reason or another. In many instances, a spouse’s job takes them to another location. School officials can’t always retain their high-quality teachers, but more could be done to keep them and support their ongoing professional growth—including finding ways to promote those who demonstrate a propensity for leadership roles.

                             

                               A Few Recommendations

I’m a firm believer that if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem. So, here are a few ideas I have for addressing each of the challenges outlined above. Keep in mind this is just a start—a springboard for further conversation if you will:

Recruitment:

  • Start Building that Pipeline—School officials could work with local churches, parent and civic groups, and high schools to promote the benefits of local school involvement and employment. Build a cohesive, year-long campaign and improve upon it each year by making it a community-wide effort.
  • Use the Grow Your Own Approach—Principals and superintendents should look closely at those paraprofessionals, substitute teachers, and volunteers who have a bachelor’s degree—if they show promise they should be mentored and encouraged to get that teaching certificate. Form a committee for this purpose and make it a priority to identify, recruit, and mentor individuals who demonstrate a propensity for success and who have strong ties to the local community.

Salaries & Retention:

Endowed Positions—School districts could partner with local businesses and industries to attract and retain high-quality teachers, particularly those in shortage areas. For example, an endowment could be established in a company’s name to supplement the income of a highly-qualified math teacher—the district would provide the regular salary and benefits, with the business adding an extra layer of salary as an incentive. Such an endowment would be good public relations for the business and may even provide some tax benefits. This may help not only to recruit but also retain high-quality teachers filling key positions, and it would further encourage school-business partnerships to create a workforce-influenced curriculum.

–rrf

 

Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation, online learning, and academic quality assurance. An accomplished presenter, writer, and educator, she currently supports higher education, P-12 schools, and educational agencies in areas such as competency-based education, teacher preparation, distance learning, leadership, outcomes-based performance, making data-driven decisions, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC. She also writes about various issues related to academic excellence through her blog site (www.robertarossfisher.com). Roberta can be reached through Twitter (@RRossFisher), LinkedIn (Roberta Ross-Fisher) and email at: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com

 

Source: America Must Get Serious About Addressing Teacher Shortages in Rural Areas | Knowledge Bank | US News