Latest Perk Schools Use to Attract Teachers: 4 Day Weeks

Google the phrase “four-day school week” and several news articles on the trending topic. In the past few months alone, school districts in Arkansas, Iowa and Texas have announced the switch to the new schedule.

The shorter week is generally used as a temporary cost-cutting measure in small, cash-strapped districts. The main driver now? Attract and retain teachers.

“Increasingly now, the option is being used as a teacher recruitment and retention tool,” said Mallory McGowin, spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Elementary-Secondary Education. Over the past two years, the number of Missouri school districts that have adopted the four-day week has nearly doubled and will likely top 140 in the next school year, McGowin said.

Missouri is not unique. In 2018, about 560 districts in 25 states used the four-day-a-week program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.. Of the districts that pioneered the condensed schedule, a few as early as the 1970s, most were in small, rural communities that tended to make the switch to cut costs. But, as Missouri’s McGowin notes, the most recent wave of schedulers are using the strategy to help solve serious staffing problems.

The pandemic has both exacerbated the shortage of teachers and made the tactic of shortening the school week to alleviate the problem more plausible. For starters, the pandemic has left many in the teaching profession feeling burnt out and reconsidering their career choices.

More than half of 3,621 respondents to a February 2022 national education association indicated that they were considering leaving the teaching profession sooner than expected. The pandemic has also led employees across industries to rethink their priorities, with a focus on better work-life balance: An overwhelming 92% of U.S. employees in a recent national survey said they would prefer a four-day work schedule to a five-day work schedule.

Moreover, these more than 1,000 respondents said that the four-day work week, more than any other benefit for employees, would convince them to stay at their jobs.

Address the normalization of modified school schedules during the pandemic (e.g. remote, hybrid, and asynchronous learning days), and the concept of a permanent four-day workweek starts to sound like a reasonable schedule, perhaps preferable to educators.

Supporters see immediate benefits

Some district leaders think so too. Those who have recently moved to the four-day week say they have seen an immediate impact on their workforces.

New Mexico’s Socorro Consolidated Schools faced 11 teacher vacancies for the 2020-2021 school year. Overall, the district has 268 employees, including about 111 teachers. In the absence of qualified candidates from the United States, Superintendent Ron Hendrix searched and filled the vacancies with candidates from the Philippines. Then the district moved to a four-day week, beginning in the 2021-22 year. The district again faced about the same number of vacancies as the previous year. But this time he was able to fill all but two positions – a culinary arts position and a group chef position – without widening the search for candidates globally.

“It made a big difference with my teachers. Improving morale has really been one of the biggest things I’ve seen [as a result of the schedule change]”, said Hendrix, who also observes its impact on new recruits: “If someone comes out of college, they’re not going to end up in the middle of nowhere if they don’t have something going for them. encourage. “

In some districts, the condensed schedule serves as an incentive for job applicants to accept employment, especially when the salary does not. Such has been the case in Colorado’s School District 27J, a 20,300-student system in the Denver area that could be the largest in the nation on a four-day schedule, according to Superintendent Chris Fiedler.

Fiedler says the district made the decision to move to a four-day week in 2018 after its sixth failed attempt to raise teachers’ salaries via a factory tax waiver, a property tax approved by voters and used for the operation of local schools.

“It was purely to attract and retain quality adults to work with children,” Fiedler said of the decision by his district, which he says pays about 20% less than neighbors.

The schedule change had the desired effect.

“I know that’s a reason some people join us,” Fiedler said. “We hired teachers away from surrounding communities.”

An infographic of a 4-day school week and differences with the 5-day model.

Skeptics worry about shorter weeks

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten is skeptical and raised concerns about a truncated workweek. She issued this statement against the concept: “A shortened workweek is not a ‘magic pill’ to solve the problem of the shortage of educators and, in some cases, could be used as an excuse by administrators not to not invest in schools. Teachers want to be in school to help children, with the conditions they need to succeed.

Other notable skeptics say districts overlook long-term negative effects on student learning in favor of a tactic to solve an immediate problem.

Education researcher Paul Hill acknowledges that districts that lock down the four-day week may initially see an increase in teacher recruitment and retention. Nonetheless, he calls the move a “race to the bottom” and argues that a shorter school week means less instruction – and less learning – for students.

“[The shorter week] does not need to be evaluated or monitored. It just happens,” said Hill, founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and professor emeritus at the University of Washington Bothell.

Careful planning and communication precede effective change

Although there is no single process that precedes a change to the four-day school week, those who facilitated the change in their districts described a deliberate and thoughtful approach.

Superintendent Fiedler says the move to a four-day week in his district came after extensive planning. The many adaptations included detailed changes to schedules, affordable daycare arrangements for families on the day off (Fridays), and the preservation of after-school and athletic offerings, even when they required adjustments, such as the installation of lights for later practices and events. The neighborhood website contains detailed information about the switch that families can access.

Fiedler was intentional about how he made adjustments. For example, unlike most districts that operate Tuesday through Friday, Fiedler intentionally chose Monday as the “off” day. His rationale: teachers would be more likely to use Monday to plan for the coming week. A Friday, he thought, might feel more like the start of a three-day weekend. In addition, the Fiedler District uses certain Mondays for teachers to come to school for staff or parent meetings and for professional development.

The careful planning and communication seems to have paid off.

“We had six different meetings with the parents. As you can imagine, the first couple was pretty intense,” Fiedler said. “We went from being afraid that they [parents] were going to tar and pluck us to get a round of applause for our innovation and courage.

Fiedler says the pandemic has made it difficult to assess the impact of the condensed schedule on students’ academic outcomes. The district has not had comprehensive statewide assessments since the spring of 2019; the results of internal evaluations, he says, have been pretty flat.

“I’m happy with the apartment, considering all the other distractions of the pandemic,” Fiedler said.

He does, however, mention one measure of student success: the district’s graduation rate. In 2017, the final year of the five-day program, the district’s graduation rate was 77.4%. The overall graduation rate has steadily increased each academic year since the four-day week was implemented in 2018-2019, reaching 88.2% in 2021.

Since the four-day program’s inception, Hispanic students in the district (who make up 46 percent of the district’s total student population) have experienced an increase in graduation rate of nearly 4 percent. In 2021, the graduation rate for 27J Hispanic students was 86.7%, which is 12.5% ​​higher than that of Hispanic students statewide and 5% higher than Colorado’s overall graduation rate.

Meanwhile, Fiedler says, the district remains “last dead” when it comes to funding compared to others in the state.

Teachers as champions of change

Without the funding to make teacher salaries more competitive, districts like 27J are using the four-day week as a leverage tool to attract teachers, who Fiedler says have been the biggest champions of change in his district.

This does not surprise Frank Walston, a retiree teacher and executive director of the New Mexico Association of Classroom Teachers. More than a decade ago, he led his district’s committee that researched and facilitated the condensed school week in municipal schools in Capitan, a small rural district in New Mexico where he taught before retiring in 2017.

“I like a four-day school week,” Walston said. “I also understand its limitations.”

Practice requires adjustments, says Walston. For example, shorter weeks usually mean longer class periods of around 10-15 minutes, which teachers and students need to get used to.

Walston also acknowledges that non-salaried employees could suffer wage losses during the change. When the district where he taught originally adopted a four-day schedule a decade ago, bus drivers in his district, who were employed by a transportation company, lost their wages due to the week of shortened work. But eventually, the district bought the buses, allowing the bus drivers to become district employees with the ability to take extra hours of work doing other work in the schools.

Walston says that, in her experience, once teachers adjust to the schedule change, they don’t want to go back.

“We had a teacher who left Capitan and went to another district on a five-day schedule,” he said. “They only stayed for a semester.”

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