Independence School District moving to a four-day school week gets national attention.
“The impetus behind it was to attract and retain staff,” Superintendent Dal Herl told “Good Morning America.” “If you look across the country, there is a significant teacher shortage, but it even goes beyond teachers as well. There’s a shortage for individuals who can drive buses, paraprofessionals, so it’s not just about trying to fill teaching positions, but certainly that’s something that we’re very focused upon.”
The average salary for a public elementary or high school teacher in Missouri decreased by around 5 percent between 1969 and 2020, and more than 6 percent between 2009 and 2020, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Nationally, teachers who have walked away from the profession have cited burnout, a lack of respect and low compensation as reasons for leaving.
The Independence School District’s starting pay for teachers begins at $41,150 and tops out at $81,713 for a veteran teacher, but like many school districts around the United States, it has seen fewer applicants for teaching and staff positions in recent years, especially those in special education and STEM fields.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Herl said. “It’s everything from compensation to work-life balance to the amount of time it takes to be a teacher.”
The move to four days for teachers and students has had an immediate impact.
“Since the discussions started with the school board regarding a four-day week, we looked at the applicants that we’ve received, and our applications are up almost 40 percent compared to the same time last year,” he said.
Reaction to the upcoming change has been mixed, with some teachers showing support while many parents remain hesitant.
“It’s something new, so I think it will be something that we will continue to get information out to our families,” Herl said. “We’ve talked to a number of school districts in the United States that have gone to a four-day week, and what they expressed to us is there will be a lot of people that are very nervous about this. but their experience was, once they got into the four-day week, it was very successful and the community enjoyed it.”
Parents interviewed on local media outlets pointed to the challenges with childcare which disproportionately affects low-income families. Research finds that the policy is inequitable to those families who end up spending more money on childcare. That raises the concern of children left unsupervised at home while working parents are absent from home.
One study published by the Economics of Education Review discovered a link between a shortened school week and and a significant rise in crime among juveniles. In some districts where the school week was shorted to four days, crime jumped 20%.
Other studies have found that the lengthened days are hard on younger learners and actually is detrimental to learning. “Imagine a five-year-old Kindergartner trying to focus on school work for nine hours. It’s asking a lot,” states one article on the subject.
–Dwight Widaman | MV