Kansas schools increasingly adopt four-day weeks

According to recent data, an increasing number of schools are contemplating the implementation of a shorter school week. (Getty Images)

Seventy-seven school buildings in around 29 districts across the state have transitioned to a four-day week this year, a notable increase from the previous year’s 60 buildings.

More Kansas public schools are embracing a shorter academic week, which is proving to be beneficial for rural communities. The majority of the state’s four-day scheduled schools are located in rural school districts.

According to Randy Watson, Commissioner of Education for KBOE, the issue has generated a lot of discussion. During a Kansas State Board of Education meeting on February 14th, Watson acknowledged the significance of the topic.

According to Watson, many districts are currently discussing the potential implementation of four-day weeks, particularly in smaller and more rural areas. Over the past decade, 93 school buildings in Kansas have experimented with a four-day schedule, although a few districts have reverted back to the traditional five-day week. Initially introduced as a cost-saving measure, the four-day week has also proven to be effective in attracting and retaining teachers.

Researchers from the Kansas State Department of Education conducted a study comparing the learning outcomes of schools with a four-day school week to those with a traditional five-day school week. The study analyzed data from 54 buildings with a four-day schedule and 1,335 buildings with a five-day schedule, including public and private elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools. The researchers utilized state assessment data from the 2022-2023 school year for their analysis.

The four-week scheduled schools primarily exist in rural areas with smaller student populations. According to estimates from KSDE, 92.6% of the buildings that implement a four-day week have less than 158 students enrolled. None of these buildings have an enrollment exceeding 440 students.

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According to Watson, Kansas schools with a four-day week typically have an average of 452 minutes per day, while the five-day schools have 406 minutes per day. In terms of total learning time during a week, the five-day schools have an average of 2,031 minutes compared to the four-day schools’ 1,810 minutes.

According to Watson, the researchers at the department analyzed the academic performances of students. They found that five-day schools were performing slightly better than four-day schools on state assessments. However, this difference was not statistically significant due to the small size of these schools. On average, the rural four-day schools had more novice teachers and teachers with fewer years of experience compared to the rural five-day schools.

According to Watson, five-day schools achieved higher ACT scores compared to four-day schools. However, it is important to consider other factors such as school resources and teacher experience that may also contribute to these differences.

“The exact mechanisms behind this phenomenon remain uncertain,” Watson explained. “There are several other variables at play within schools, such as the number of days of attendance per week, which further complicate the situation.”

According to board member Cathy Hopkins, it is important for communities to have the autonomy to decide what scheduling works best for them. She has received encouraging feedback from districts that have implemented a shortened school week. Hopkins noted that in rural areas, where families often have to travel long distances for essential services such as grocery shopping or medical appointments (which could take up to two hours in some cases), having an extra day off can have a significant impact.

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“It is truly significant for the family to have a dedicated day to engage in such activities,” Hopkins expressed. “They witness the positive effects it has on the well-being of their children and teachers. The numerous advantages they experience are truly remarkable, and it is evident that this approach is highly effective for them. I find this to be a truly wonderful aspect.”

During an interview, Sherri Schwanz, a music educator and president of Kansas National Education Association, highlighted the importance of considering various factors when implementing a four-day work week. These factors include taking into account students who may experience food insecurity at home, ensuring parents have the ability to supervise their children during the additional time at home, and providing suitable daycare options for younger students.

Schwanz emphasized the importance of including educators, including teachers, custodians, paraprofessionals, and administrative assistants, in the discussion about implementing a shortened week.

According to Schwanz, the input of educators is crucial as districts seek to implement four-day learning weeks for students. Each Kansas community has its own unique characteristics, which means that districts must overcome various obstacles in order to successfully implement a shorter school week.

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