Re-evaluate longer school days

Feedback from teachers, students and families on the longer school day is mostly negative.
Feedback from teachers, students and families on the longer school day is mostly negative.

Wichita school district officials should re-evaluate their decision to extend the length of the school day and shorten the school year. But as was the case before, whether they keep this schedule or change it could involve choosing between bad options.

In a move to save $3 million, the school district reluctantly decided last year to make its school days 30 minutes longer so it could shorten the school year by 15 days. District teachers also voted for the change.

Though there were concerns at the time about how the schedule might impact learning, school officials and teachers decided that it was a better choice than other cost-saving options, which included eliminating elementary school librarians and outsourcing custodial services.

But after a half year’s experience with the new schedule, the feedback from teachers, students and families is mostly negative.

Teachers say that students’ attention span is diminished at the end of a long day, making the extra time in school not very productive. Also, the longer day adds more work for teachers, with less time after school to grade papers and prepare for the next day.

Many students feel exhausted, especially if they are involved in sports or have a lot of homework. Because of bus schedules, some elementary students aren’t getting home until after 5 p.m.

Parents are expressing the same concerns, saying their children are tired and stressed.

Some school board members also are having second thoughts. “I didn’t see it as a big thing, and I regret it,” Barb Fuller said.

The even bigger educational concern is the loss of school days. There was already a problem with students slipping academically during school breaks and vacations. The shorter school year could make that worse.

But going back to the previous school schedule, or something similar, would increase school costs. And that could mean having to cut something else that is important.

Also, the district’s finances could get tighter. A budget plan that cleared a Senate committee this week proposes cutting current year school funding by $128 million. Wichita’s share of that cut would be more than $14 million.

About the only hope is a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that the state is significantly underfunding schools. If that happened, the district might receive enough additional funding to change its school schedule and avoid additional cuts.

But absent judicial action, any move to change the school schedule could require inflicting budget pain elsewhere.