AUSTIN (KXAN) — A rural East Texas school district just became at least the 60th in the state to move to a four-day school week. Overton ISD, a rural district east of Tyler that serves about 475 students, approved the change in a school board meeting Monday.
“If you were for it or against it, let’s put that behind us,” said Superintendent Larry Calhoun. “We’ve made the decision, adopt a can-do attitude and let’s figure it out. I think it’s always a great day to be a Mustang.”
The four-day week was made possible after a 2015 law, passed by the Texas Legislature, changed how classroom instruction was timed. Districts no longer had to provide 180 days of classes, but instead a minimum of 75,600 minutes.
But how does the four-day schedule work? That depends on the district.
Most that have adopted the four-day schedule give students Friday off. That’s how Overton ISD plans to operate in the new school year.
Other districts give Mondays off, like Prairie Valley ISD and Tioga ISD, both north of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.
According to the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, some districts have extended class hours on other days to make up for the lost day. Prairie Valley, for example, extended the school day by 40 minutes Tuesday through Friday. And in Tioga, the school day is 28 minutes longer, while the school year is three weeks longer.
A KXAN analysis found at least 60 districts statewide now offer four-day weeks, with many of those planning to start the schedule in the 2023-24 school year. At least seven other districts offer a hybrid schedule, with four-day weeks for part of the year.
Many districts are making the switch in a bid to attract and retain teachers. Others say the schedule helps to increase student attendance, and in turn, funding for the district. Funding for districts in Texas is directly tied to student attendance.
But Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath recently warned that four-day weeks can be harmful to students, unless the district takes specific steps.
In a hearing of the state’s Senate Committee on Education, Morath said academic disruptions during the week, such as field trips, athletic competitions, extracurriculars and other reasons for students being pulled out of class, should be moved to the non-class day.
The “educational experience” on the four class days would then have to be thoughtfully organized to maximize instructional time, Morath said. On the fifth day, teachers would have “built-in reflection time” and training or professional development time.
“There is a subset of districts that when they make those sets of shifts, it does not reduce student achievement,” Morath said. “I still don’t have any data that shows it increases student achievement, but if all those conditions are true, it is not openly harmful to student achievement. But if all of those conditions are not true, the data is pretty clear. It just reduces student achievement.”