More Kansas schools embrace four-day weeks

More Kansas public schools are adopting a four-day school week, rising from 60 schools last year to 77. Most are located in more rural areas with smaller student enrollment. None of the buildings had more than 440 students enrolled.

By

State News

February 27, 2024 - 3:52 PM

Photo by GettyImages

TOPEKA — Seventy-seven school buildings in approximately 29 districts across the state have implemented a four-day week this year, up from 60 in 2023.

As more Kansas public schools adapt to a shorter academic week, rural communities may see benefits. Rural school districts already contain the majority of the state’s four-day scheduled schools. 

“It’s been a hot topic,” said Randy Watson, KBOE Commissioner of education, in a Feb. 14 Kansas State Board of Education meeting.

The Humboldt district researched and considered a switch to a four-day school week in March 2023 but school board members ultimately voted to stick with a five-day schedule.

Watson said most districts were having discussions about the possibility of implementing four-day weeks, especially in smaller, more rural areas. Since 2011, 93 Kansas school buildings have tested a four-day schedule, although some of the districts have returned to a typical five-day schedule. First proposed as a way to save money in some districts, the four-day week also has been utilized for teacher recruitment.

Kansas State Department of Education researchers examined the 2022-2023 school year population of 54 buildings using a four-day school week and 1,335 buildings using a five-day school week to compare learning outcomes. They looked at public and private elementary, middle, junior high and high schools with state assessment data for that school year.

The majority of the four-week scheduled schools are in more rural areas with smaller student enrollment. According to KSDE estimates, 92.6% of the buildings using a four-day week had fewer than 158 students enrolled. None of the buildings had more than 440 students enrolled.

Watson estimated a four-day week in Kansas schools averages 452 minutes per day to the five-day schools’ 406 minutes per day. During a week of learning, the five-day schools average 2,031 minutes of education to the four-week’s 1,810 minutes.

When department researchers looked at the academic performances of students, Watson said, five-day schools were performing slightly better than four-day schools on state assessments, though the difference was not statistically significant because of the small size of these schools. On average, the rural four-day schools also had more novice teachers and teachers with fewer years of experience than the rural five-day schools.

Five-day schools significantly outpaced four-day schools on ACT scores, but Watson stressed that multiple other factors, such as school resources and teacher experience, could also be at play.

“The mechanisms of how this works are very unclear,” Watson said. “Within any school there are other variables going on, whether you’re going four days a week or whether you’re going five days.”

Board member Cathy Hopkins said communities need to make their own decisions about what works for them, but she had heard positive tidings from districts with the shortened week. Hopkins said in rural areas where families have to make longer journeys to places like the grocery store or doctor — which could be a two-hour trip in some areas — the extra day could make a significant difference.

“It’s a big deal to have that day for the family to do that,” Hopkins said. “They see healthier kids and teachers on that level as much as anything. They’re seeing some huge pros, and it’s working for them, so I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

In an interview for this story, Sherri Schwanz, music educator and president of Kansas National Education Association, said a lot of factors needed to be taken into account for the four-day work week, such as students dealing with food insecurity at home, if a parent is able to watch their children for that extra time at home, and day care options for younger students. 

Schwanz said educators — from teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals, administrative assistants and onward — should be included when discussing the shortened week idea.

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