Canada

Are 4-day school weeks good for students?

A recently published report shows compressing the school week to four days has no impact on academic performance. And some school boards say the move is saving them money.

Boards turn to compressed school weeks to help cut costs, save schools

A recently published study says shortening the school week has little or no impact on academic performance. (Robert MacPherson/AFP/Getty Images)

A recently published report says compressing the school week to four days has little impact on academic performance. And some school boards say the move has saved them money, and helped them keep schools with lower enrolment open.

In British Columbia, Boundary School District 51 switched all of its schools to the four-day week during the 2001-2002 school year. Superintendent Kevin Argue says that switch helped ensure schools wouldn't have to close. 

"The district was on the edge of the abyss of having to look at closing schools, and that was happening all around the province at that time," says Argue. "The four-day week was what allowed us to carry on, and we haven't closed any schools since."

Argue says the board saves money through reduced busing costs and lower heating bills, and that absenteeism dropped significantly among all levels of staff after the introduction of the shorter week. 

Five years after making the switch, the district's school board conducted a review of the shorter week. It showed the board saved more than $200,000 a year -- not enough to be the lone factor in saving the schools, but a significant reduction in the board's budget. The review also showed virtually no change in academic performance, and the need to discipline students dropped by 50 per cent in the first year of the new program.

Shorter weeks mean less time on the bus for students

In Saskatchewan's Prairie South School Division, five of 40 schools are on the four-day week. Tony Baldwin, the division's director of education, says they made the change 13 years ago for quality of life reasons, rather than financial considerations.

"They're communities where we're busing kids in from a long distance in, so if you look at it from a point of view of the parents and the kids, that's 20 per cent of the busing gone," says Baldwin.

"And if you're riding the bus an hour a day in the morning and an hour at night, that's a lot of time you get back." 

Baldwin says families in the communities of Glentworth, Mankota, Rockglen, Gravelbourg, and Kincaid have grown to love the compressed week, and would be "up in arms" if they had to switch back.

Transition can be difficult

In both school districts, parents had to adapt. Argue says the first year was tough in the community of Grand Forks, B.C. — with a population of 5,000. 

"There was some angst, people were adjusting, people were trying to find ways of going about their own work schedule," says Argue. "But now it's just embedded in the culture of the community, it's woven right into everything that we do. Many employers and professionals in town have adjusted their schedules to line up with it."

Argue says generally speaking, the smaller the community, the easier the transition. 

But some boards have rejected the four-day week after giving it a try. B.C.'s Coastal Mountains School District 82 switched to shorter weeks for financial reasons. But following a new board election, the compressed week was scrapped, because parents complained about the inconvenience. 

The four-day week was also contemplated in Fort McMurray. It was expected to save local school board up to a million dollars a year. But the idea was rejected.