The Independence, Missouri school district’s decision to switch to a four-day school week next fall has only intensified the rift between parents and public education.
Even as parents like Arthur Smith raised concerns to the school board, they found increasing challenges in making their voices heard. Meetings are not livestreamed or recorded, and the board limits public comment only to specific agenda items.
“I feel like we have a bit of a crisis on our hands. A crisis of relationships and of community trust,” Smith said at the board’s Dec. 13 meeting. “All of these policies, rules and practices limit participation, limit public comment and send the message to the public that our engagement is not wanted.”
Marcie Gragg, a mother of four, argued the district implemented the four-day week mainly to address hiring and retention challenges, not for the “best interests of students.”
“It’s more about how does this impact adults,” she said. “And then we’ll just wait and see down the road how kids fare through this.”
The school board voted 6-1 for the change, with no classes on Mondays. The board members who voted for the shorter week argued the move will help attract and retain teachers.
But Brandi Pruente, a former educator and mom of three, said other factors such as planning time, morale, and professionalism do more for teacher retention than a restructured schedule that won’t ultimately reduce workload.
“I certainly hope teachers are not fooled into believing that this is a 4-day work week,” she wrote in a series of Facebook posts criticizing the plan. “It most certainly looks like they will be working all week with longer days as well. Please tell me we have better ideas for attracting teachers to this district.”
Concerns over student achievement, child care
Research from other districts that switched to a four-day week suggests the transition can negatively affect student achievement.
Paul Thompson, associate professor of economics at Oregon State University, studied 15 years of data from more than 100 schools in Oregon that had experimented with shorter weeks.
“I find clear negative consequences for student learning when schools adopt four-day schedules,” he wrote, adding that student test scores in reading and math both dropped after the change.
“Those negative trends continue so long as five-day schedules are not restored. These detrimental achievement effects appear largely driven by reductions in weekly time in school, which decreases by three to four hours.”
Child care also becomes a factor, especially for low-income families where the students’ parents or caregivers work full time. While the school district plans to provide child care for Mondays, it will come at a cost.
“The lack of school on a weekday is difficult for working parents, as the pandemic experiences of families and broad exodus of women from the workforce have made clear,” Thompson wrote in his analysis.
Pruente also pointed out the switch to a four-day week will increase child care costs for her family.
“My family is middle class and with our schedule, we only need before care each day prior to the school day for two children,” she wrote.
“With a 4-day week, I would use the full day Monday childcare (for $30 each kid), instead of the before care cost of $10 each. This would be an increase of $40 weekly in my childcare payment to the school district. The total for the year will be $1240. How many families can handle this change?”