Hawaii's class time thin even before cuts


POSTED: Sunday, November 01, 2009

Even before the state cut the academic year by 10 percent to reduce costs, students in Hawaii's public high schools could count on far less time in the classroom than their counterparts across the nation.

That's because Hawaii has one of the shortest school days in the country.

High school students receive at least 1,285 minutes of instructional time per week, or roughly 4 hours and 17 minutes a day, according to the state Department of Education. That's almost an hour shorter than the national average of 5 hours and 14 minutes of mandated instructional time in public high schools, according to the Education Commission of the States.

“;I think we need more time, either through the school day or additional days in the school year,”; said Catherine Payne, principal at Farrington High School, which has adopted a bell schedule that dramatically increases classroom time for its students, to an average of 5 hours and 18 minutes a day.

Through a typical 180-day school year in Hawaii, high school students are assured of at least 771 hours of instructional time. That falls well short of the national average of 996 hours of minimum mandated instructional time, according to a Star-Bulletin analysis of data compiled by the commission, an interstate compact that provides education information to policymakers.


With 17 Furlough Fridays this year and another 17 planned next year to help balance the state budget, Hawaii students will come up even shorter on classroom time. The prospect has ignited mass protest among parents concerned about their children's education, and triggered two lawsuits in federal court seeking to keep schools open.

The Department of Education says it costs an average of $5 million a day to run Hawaii's public schools and administration. Shutting down campuses results in substantial savings in labor as well as overhead such as utilities and transportation. The superintendent has warned of thousands of layoffs if the furloughs are stopped.

Principal Ron Okamura of McKinley High School said he understands the need to balance the budget. But he was surprised that instructional time was cut so drastically. He suggested lengthening the school day on nonfurlough days, to add classroom time with less impact on overhead costs, since campuses are already open.

“;My assumption would have been that we would have extended our school day somehow,”; he said. “;Go to a four-day school week but increase the amount of contact time we have the kids. You tell it to the students, they'll be moaning. But the office has to remain open until 4:30 anyway.”;

“;I am concerned about the fact that we're losing instructional time,”; Okamura added. “;There's always that range of students that really needs that additional contact time with the teachers. I think the students should have that instructional time put back.”;

In Hawaii, the number of school days in a year and instructional minutes are decided through bargaining with the Hawaii State Teachers Association. In others states, instructional time is set by law or regulation. Some states require a total number of instructional hours per year, others set a minimum of school days and hours per day.

Before the furloughs were imposed, Hawaii's high school instructional time was the fifth shortest in the nation. Four other states—Arizona, California, New Jersey and Utah—mandate fewer hours, 720 over the course of an academic year, compared with 771 hours for Hawaii.

Elementary school students in Hawaii get more time, but still fall below the national average. They can count on at least 1,415 minutes per week, or four hours and 43 minutes a day of classroom instruction. The national average for elementary grades is five hours, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Daniel Hamada, assistant superintendent for the Office of Curriculum, Instruction and Student Support, noted that the requirements are just a minimum, and many local schools offer more classroom time to their students. He said motivated students are also taking advantage of online options to take extra classes. And more “;seat time”; doesn't necessarily improve education, he added.

“;You can always use more time, but what really counts is the quality of the instructional time,”; Hamada said. “;I would hate to just say that I'm going to increase the day to 3 p.m. or 3:30 p.m. without ensuring that the time would be well spent on student achievement.”;

Eric Seitz, an attorney who filed a federal class-action lawsuit on behalf of students to stop Furlough Fridays, agreed that quality of instruction counts, but added that time is a crucial component.

“;What's most important is the quality,”; he said. “;You cannot provide quality unless you provide sufficient quantity.”;

Education policymakers have been pushing to increase instructional time in the United States, not cut it, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently chastised Hawaii for taking “;a step in the wrong direction.”; The federal government is offering money to expand learning time. The current U.S. school schedule is based on a farm-oriented economy, and advocates argue that more time is needed today to give students a well-rounded education that will allow them to compete internationally.

A pilot program at 26 schools in Massachusetts has shown promising results. The schools redesigned their schedules and curriculum to add 300 hours a year, strengthening academics, enrichment such as music and fitness, and teacher planning time. Student proficiency has risen substantially in all three tested subjects: English, math and science, according to the National Center on Time & Learning.

Jennifer Davis, president of the Boston-based organization, said that the loss of 17 instructional days is likely to have a “;very significant impact”; on student educational achievement in Hawaii. She also pointed to research at the University of Maryland that found test scores dipped in years when schools were closed for multiple snow days.

“;States across the country are grappling with these budget cuts and no one is saying it's easy,”; she said. “;But the fact is that so much of our future depends on the quality of the education our children get. Most states are doing their best to shield education.”;

At Farrington, Principal Payne is hoping for a quick end to Furlough Fridays. “;I just hope this is a really short-lived time because we're losing so much,”; she said. “;It's a big loss, a huge loss to children, particularly poor children who don't have alternatives.”;

“;I think now we just would like to get back what we've lost,”; she added. “;But in the longer term, if people truly want positive reform in education in Hawaii, how much time are we spending has to be a big thing to consider.”;


Classroom time

Minimum instructional hours per year for public high schools

District of Columbia1,080
New Hampshire990
New Jersey720
New Mexico1,080
New York990
North Carolina1,000
North Dakota1,038
Rhode Island990
South Carolina1,080
South Dakota963
West Virginia1,035

Sources: Star-Bulletin analysis of data from Education Commission of the States publications: “;Number of Instructional Days/Hours in the School Year”; (June 2008) and “;Minimum Number of Instructional Minutes/Hours in a High School Day”; (November 2007); Hawaii Department of Education