Why a Four-Day School Week Might Save the Teaching Profession

Professors in classroom having a discussion. Dr. Basiyr Rodney leads a discussion in a School of Education meeting. 

By Dr. Basiyr Rodney, Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA 

Dr. Basiyr RodneyThere is no question that the chronic teacher shortage plaguing the nation was exacerbated by COVID-19.

In Missouri, there is an ongoing acceleration of teachers leaving the profession and an increasing difficulty to attract new candidates. As a leader in teacher preparation I often get the question, "How do we attract new teachers?" Or more recently I get: "Can you send some of your student teachers to my school? I'll pay them to be in the classroom even if they have not graduated yet."

I find both these questions troubling especially when they come from school superintendents and principals. The fact is there is a tested solution to our teacher shortage. It is the four-day school week or four-day schedule. As of this year, 25% of Missouri districts have adopted a four-day school week.

Many districts, such as Everton School District in Dade County, adopted this approach in 2013 for teacher retention. But the approach also serves two other crucial purposes. It enhances the professional profile of teaching and reduces teacher burnout. Offering teachers more professional autonomy attracts more teachers. This flexibility communicates a higher level of respect for teachers and the profession.

Some districts originally adopted the strategy for cost savings. Although not a great deal of money is saved (most estimates suggest cost savings of 10% to 20%), the stability of the teaching staff is strengthened. Most districts report a reduced need for substitute teachers and a marked reduction of teacher absences as a result of the four-day schedule.

A chronic question about the four-day schedule is it's impact on urban children in large districts. Although the research is still ongoing, we now know that generally there is no significant difference in student performance. Moreover, the stability in the teaching force in some cases is leading to better learning performance. The Devers School District in Texas recently reported an increase in performance.

Since the early 2000s education leaders in Finland have demonstrated that shortened school days do not lead to less effective teaching and does not necessarily lead to diminished student achievement. In Finland and the high performing Nordic countries, school is only four hours per day. Teacher shortages are unheard of, and the large majority of students are generally high performing. In fact, students in these countries routinely outperform students from other developed countries, including the U.S. and the U.K.

Missouri would do well to follow the 25% of school districts across our state with the four-day week. Districts that have adopted this approach are addressing teacher shortages and are effectively providing motivated and professional teachers to meet students' needs. As a parent, I would prefer a four-day schedule with a qualified teacher to a five-day week with a substitute or a teacher in training. Districts that choose to avoid this path by relying on temporary teachers, pool substitutes or even student teachers are engaging in educational malpractice. School boards should hold themselves accountable for the negative impact on children.

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