Pulse of Canada: Should school boards consider four-day weeks to cut costs?

Thomas Bink
Pulse of Canada

Each Friday, Yahoo! Canada News asks Canadians where they stand on the important issues of the day, and our panel of experts tackles the same question.

The public school board in Fort McMurray is looking at reducing school weeks to four days to save money. Do you think all of Canada’s school boards should consider four-day school weeks to reduce costs?

Here's what you said:

Here's what we said:

Thomas Bink: This is one of the worst ideas I've heard in a long time. Look, I totally understand that education budgets are tight and that they need to look at all avenues to cut costs. But I can't support any idea that negatively affects students and the education of Canadians. I know they've said they can pack five days of learning into a four-day week. But if our kids are expected to compete on the world stage with kids who have year-round schooling, we can't even consider cutting back on school weeks. Bad, bad, bad idea.

Matthew Coutts: The argument for the change is that enough adjustment could be made to make up the work and provide the same level of education in fewer days. Which, on its own, seems like a wonderful fantasy. But I can't imagine that's how it will translate. Students will be rushed; teachers will be overworked by the longer days. Not to mention the strain it will put on families to care for the younger children on that extra day off. For whatever minimal savings they will see, it just isn't worth the hassle.

Andy Radia: I don't see how teachers are going to be overworked, Matt. They're simply talking about rescheduling professional development days and making each school day just 11 minutes longer. I think teachers — who already get three months off every year — can handle that. I'll stop with the teacher-bashing, but seriously, I think this is a great idea. How else do you two propose the school board battle there $4-million-plus deficit? The teachers certainly aren't going to take a pay cut. Supplies and books aren't getting any cheaper. And, with diminished oil revenues, Alberta certainly isn't going to increase education funding. This is their best option.

Bink: There needs to be an objective view of the whole system before anyone decides where to hack and slash. Ralph Klein was able to find education savings in Alberta by reducing the number of school boards and unnecessary administration. Maybe we need to objectively look at whether union-based teacher salary increases are in line with wages and increases in the private sector. Maybe we need to see if technology like e-books is an option over buying thousands of texts every year. I think simply cutting a day is an impulse solution that negatively affects actual learning.

Radia: Those are some good points Tom: the school board should take a look at all cost-cutting measures. To be clear, I'm not suggesting four-day school weeks across the country but I think it's a viable option for rural communities. The National Post did a great piece on this issue, noting that since Fort Mac is 4.5 hours away from the nearest big city (Edmonton), a lot of kids who play sports already take Friday off so that they can attend games in Edmonton. According to the Post, school attendance drops by 15 per cent on Fridays. The article also states that the Catholic School Board and other rural school boards in Alberta have already adopted a four-day week.

Coutts: I still don’t see how it will help. The school day may only be 11 minutes longer, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the day hasn’t been condensed and overburdened. The Friday ends up being a preparation and development day for the teachers. Not to mention, again, the need for daycare programs and tutoring sessions for those kids who will not be busy with sports. All for a mere $1 million saving, in the example Fort McMurray. That may be a saving to the school board, but that cost is going to be shifted somewhere else. Extrapolate this to a larger city like Vancouver or Toronto, and imaging the chaos that would come with giving every student a day off during the week.

Bink: Yeah, I'm sure a lot of students like the idea, but I don't see how four-day weeks can be a viable option for school boards. Look harder to find savings in a way that doesn't hurt a kid's chance to learn.

So, what do you think? Have your say in the comments area below.