Legislation passed in 2009 paved the way for Missouri K-12 school districts to alter their academic schedules in a big way. Senate Bill 291 (SB291) allowed districts the option of moving to a four-day school week, as long as they provided at least 142 days of instruction and at least 1,044 hours of in-school attendance. Out of the 518 school districts in Missouri, 61 have opted for a four-day week in the 2019-2020 school year.
What Draws Districts to a Four-Day Model
According to a report presented to the Missouri State Board of Education (January 2020), there are two main reasons why school districts in the Show-Me State adopt the four-day school week model: money and teachers.
So far, all 61 of the Missouri school districts that have moved to a shortened week are rural districts, and most are strapped for cash. Some even have trouble paying for bus transportation and utilities, and superintendents are looking for creative solutions to their cash flow problems. Other districts have trouble attracting and retaining quality teachers, especially in high demand areas. Subjects in particularly high demand include special education, mathematics, science, and English Language Learning.
While they are dedicated and hardworking, teachers have their own families with bills to pay–and many are willing to commute to neighboring districts that pay more. As a result, financially distressed schools struggle to hire and keep experienced, highly-qualified teachers, which has a huge impact on student learning. School administrators are betting that a four-day week may be a good way to solve the challenge of building a stable teacher base.
SB291 Requires Minimal Performance Requirements
According to the 2009 law, school districts that adopt a four-day school week must be able to meet expectations on Annual Performance Reports (APR) required by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Districts are compared each year to state averages in five main areas. Academic performance, subgroup academic performance, attendance, college and career readiness, and high school graduation earn points in each area for district performance.
SB291 requires districts moving to a four-day week to maintain the same basic level of APR performance as they did prior to changing their schedule. According to the bill, “A school district that adopts a four-day school week and subsequently meets at least two fewer performance standards on its annual performance report over a two year period must revert to a five-day school week. If the school district then meets the same number of performance standards it had met prior to adopting the four-day school week, it can resume a four-day school week.”
Given this latitude, there is nothing to prevent under-performing school districts from adopting a four-day school week. As long as their APR performance doesn’t go significantly backward over two years, they can continue. And, even if it does, they can resume the full five-day week, fix their problems, and then revert back to the four-day week to possibly continue the cycle.
Another important issue is the way in which APR itself is calculated. The system needs to be reviewed and updated to better reflect the achievement and success of all Missouri learners.
SB291: A Beginning, but More Work is Needed
Some additional work needs to be done before Missouri school districts fully embrace a four-day week. For example:
- DESE needs to work with school district officials to clearly define APR performance indicators and outcomes that truly support student success.
- School district administrators need to give very careful thought to both the pros and cons of a four-day week.
- District officials should be able to clearly state the problem they are trying to solve by moving to a four-day week. Likewise, they should be able to define what success should “look like” in their district at the end of each academic year.
- DESE staff need to work with state legislators to update current regulations in order to ensure quality and accountability.
One Missouri is committed to research, education, advocacy, and policy development on behalf of all Missourians.
Top Photo Credit: Prodigy Math