Fifty-nine school districts across Texas have opted for a four-day school week so far, either in full or for just a part of the next school year.
Driven in particular by high teacher turnover — a major challenge for districts across the state, including Dallas Independent School District (DISD) — this decision has become especially prevalent in the rural areas of North and East Texas, per KXAN.
Four-day school weeks were made possible by a bill enacted by Texas lawmakers in 2016 that granted districts more flexibility in scheduling classes. Rather than requiring 180 school days, a minimum of 75,600 minutes of instruction must be met.
The largest school district to have adopted the four-day school week is Crosby Independent School District (CISD). Located just outside Houston, nearly 6,500 students attend CISD schools. The decision was made during a school board meeting late last month and will apply to the new school year.
When speaking with KXAN, Paula Patterson, CISD superintendent, made it clear that the move was about trying to attract high-quality teachers.
“Our why is simple and straightforward,” Patterson told KXAN. “We want to find, recruit, and retain the best teachers in the state in the classrooms for our students. This change immediately makes Crosby ISD a top destination for educators in Harris County.”
Districts across Texas that have or will soon transition to a four-day school week also cited teacher retention as a major advantage of the new schedule.
For instance, Alto Independent School District, situated south of Tyler, will enact a four-day week pilot program from 2024 to 2026.
Administrators expect, as indicated on the district’s website, to see a “competitive advantage in hiring high-quality faculty and staff” and fewer incidents of teacher “burnout.” A trickle-down effect on students is also anticipated, with student morale expected to go up along with attendance rates.
According to a survey conducted by La Vernia Independent School District, situated east of San Antonio, 82% of staff were interested in a four-day week.
Mike Morath, the Texas commissioner of education, told KXAN that there has been a 30-year trend across the United States of teachers leaving their jobs.
“It involves compensation. It involves issues related to work-life balance and working conditions, generally, the kind of training and support that we offer,” explained Morath, speaking about Texas.
At a DISD Board of Trustees meeting in January, these issues and the alleged failure of the district to provide a safe working environment for employees prompted DISD instructor Elizabeth Farris to claim that the school board had a “culture of contempt” for its teachers.
To better understand teacher shortages, Texas Governor Greg Abbott formed a Teacher Vacancy Task Force (TVTF) last March. Its report, recently released by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), emphasized the importance of demonstrating respect and value for teacher time.
One elementary school teacher wrote in response to the TVTF survey:
“Teachers are expected to do an extreme amount of things in a short amount of time. We are not only planning and teaching kids, we are filling out endless paperwork, completing classes to better our teaching, [attending] several meetings a week during our ‘planning time,’ and many more things. All that leaves us very little time to actually plan and prep activities for the kids. Admin wants memorable lessons, which I agree, but we are never given the time to plan those.”
Some districts have pointed to the four-day school week as an opportunity for teachers to utilize the fifth day to complete their additional responsibilities.
Despite the growing popularity of a four-day school week, not all stakeholders are convinced of its merits.
Morath voiced skepticism about the scheduling change during a March 1 hearing of the state’s Senate Committee on Education. Unless undertaken “very, very thoughtfully” to maximize instructional time, Morath believes the change may be “harmful for student achievement on balance,” per The Hill.