Kansas City students don’t work on farms. Their school day hours need a modern update

Emily Curiel/ecuriel@kcstar.com
·3 min read

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell wants students to have the option of going to school in the evening if it better fits their schedule. And he’s got some important allies among state education officials.

“I love the idea because this is a new day and age for students, and we have to think more expansively about how we meet our students where they are,” said Carol Hallquist, vice president of the Missouri State Board of Education. “I think it is doable.”

It’s not only doable but necessary to keep kids in school who might otherwise drop out.

Students would have the flexibility to work a part-time job during the day and attend school at night. Some would be able to spend the day helping care for family members — elderly or preschool — while their parents work.

The current school-day system, Bedell said, is “archaic and it has to change.” He’s right.

“Give me the flexibility,” Bedell said last week in remarks to the state board of education, “with a future high school schedule that allows for us to have schools open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and to innovate in a way that will allow for us to adjust to the demands of the market.”

When many more Americans lived on farms, the school calendar met the needs of an agrarian society. Mom and Dad needed the kids home during the busy summer months. Hence, a September-to-May school calendar.

Today, more of us live urban or suburban lives, yet we’re stuck with the old calendar.

Bedell’s idea to look differently at the school day could be vital to the district’s effort to maintain its newly acquired state accreditation. Student attendance is a key criteria for a district meeting state standards.

For years, the state’s attendance mark — 90% of students in school 90% of the time — has eluded KCPS. If districts can make school hours more accessible to students, Bedell says, he believes more of his 14,000 students will show up more often.

Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education officials said the state already has some flexibility over school calendars and student attendance rules. In 2019, the state began measuring the length of the school year by hours rather than days. Districts must offer 1,042 hours a year. A few years earlier, a new law started allowing districts to offer a four-day-a-week schedule.

No one is asking teachers to work more hours. Teaching is already one of the most underpaid careers, so adding another four hours a day would likely push many out of the profession.

Instead, they would have the flexibility to start their shift later to teach evening classes. Or, they could continue teaching the traditional daytime schedule.

“I’m a huge fan of Dr. Bedell’s proposal because I understand the need for multiple options,” said Jason Roberts, president of the Kansas City Federation of Teachers and School-Related Personnel.

Of course, logistical issues — such as teacher workdays — would require negotiation.

But will this add to staffing costs? “I don’t see it being insurmountable,” Hallquist said.

District leaders, teachers and the state board of education know the traditional education model does not work for all students.

It must be reimagined. Missouri legislators, who more in theory than practice are proponents of local control, should make sure educators can design schools so every child has access to a good education.

‘It’s also going to take one district being the first to start doing it differently,” Roberts said. “This is an opportunity for the KCPS district to be a leader.”

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