HAWAII MULLS CHANGES IN SCHOOL DAYS
State educators favor longer school day for students
By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer
By Loren Moreno
Hawai'i public school students spend six hours per day in class, slightly less than the national average but well below what some local educators believe is necessary to increase learning.
Last week, President Obama announced a major shift in the nation's education policy, suggesting kids should spend more time in school, either through a longer school day or more days in the school year.
Most local educators and the teachers' union praised the idea, saying teachers already struggle to find enough hours in the day to fit in the necessary content. But education officials are concerned about the cost of extending the day or year, especially in a time of fiscal crisis.
"Frankly, I think we as educators and parents would like to see children spend more time learning," said Donald Young, director of the Curriculum Research and Development Group at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. CRDG runs the UH Laboratory School, a public charter school that already has a lengthened 7 1/2-hour school day.
But Young said current economic conditions may impede any immediate changes to the school calendar and schedule.
"More hours in a day means more hours you have to pay people to work," he said.
Lengthening the school day could easily cost millions, with operation costs of the 282-school system totaling about $4.5 million a day. The state also would have to work with public employee unions, including the Hawai'i State Teachers Association, to increase the hours in a work day.
But several schools in the state already have found ways to lengthen the day by 30 to 45 minutes by instituting a "block schedule," which staggers teachers' work schedules and lengthens class periods from the traditional 55 minutes to 85 minutes.
Hawai'i school superintendent Patricia Hamamoto has said on various occasions that she supports a longer day and a longer year. "By lengthening the school day or school year, we will be better able to achieve the student performance results we are striving for," she said.
In general, Hawai'i's school day and school year is slightly different from what is considered the national standard — 6 1/2 hours a day, 180 days a year.
At least 15 states offer fewer instructional hours per day than Hawai'i's public schools, although Hawai'i falls slightly below the standard 6 1/2-hour school day, according to a survey of states conducted by the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Hawai'i is also among the majority of states that offer 180 or more instructional days per year, the 2007 survey found.
A TYPICAL DAY
In general, public schools in Hawai'i start the day at 8 a.m. and end the day at 2:15 p.m, except on Wednesdays when schools let out at 1:30 p.m. The school day is generally about six hours and includes a 35- to 40-minute lunch period and a 15-minute recess. Students generally receive 5 to 5 1/2 hours of instruction time, depending on the school.
For comparison, 'Iolani School's day is 7 hours, 20 minutes long. Students from grade seven to 12 start their day at 7:40 a.m. and end at 3 p.m. The day includes a 43-minute lunch period, said spokeswoman Cathy Lee Chong.
'Iolani's school year has a minimum of 175 days, compared with DOE's minimum of 180 days.
Changes to the public school calendar or hours generally require agreement with unions. The current Hawai'i State Teachers Association contract, which expires in June, sets a teacher's work day at seven hours.
Lengthening the school day by even one hour would essentially amount to a 14 percent increase in work and pay, said Roger Takabayashi, president of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association.
"Due to the tremendous budget shortfall, I don't foresee this happening soon," Takabayashi said.
For the time being, Takabayashi said the state should focus on increasing support services to students, such as tutoring and behavioral health counseling.
He also said the state should increase the amount of alternative learning environments so disruptive students can be taken out of the classroom. Takabayashi said not only would that student be placed in an environment that suits his or her needs, it would let teachers focus on instruction.
Education officials generally say they are concerned with the financial impact of increasing the school day or lengthening the calendar. Earlier this year, Hamamoto proposed closing the school system for four days each year because of pending budget cuts, a move that would save the state $18.3 million.
"What we need to do now is engage in the dialogue as a community so when the fiscal crisis is over and we're looking at more resources for education, it would be an natural evolution," she said.
Lengthening the school day isn't as simple as adding minutes, Hamamoto said. The DOE would need to revamp its instructional standards, teaching strategies and professional development to prepare teachers.
"If you don't arm teachers with strategies to engage students in the longer instruction, it becomes very difficult," she said.
Hamamoto said adding an hour to the day needs to be coupled with "meaningful instruction." She said the day may need to be lengthened by 1 1/2 or 2 hours.
Fewer Hawai'i schools are meeting the No Child Left Behind list of expectations — from math and reading proficiency, to test participation, to retention and graduate rates — with about 40 percent of schools achieving "adequate yearly progress" last year. That's down from a year before, when 65 percent of the state's 282 schools met their goals.
But overall, the state's public school students are showing steady improvement in math and reading test scores since testing began in 2002.
About 62 percent of public school students are proficient in reading. That compares with 39 percent when testing first began in 2002. Likewise, 43 percent of public school students demonstrated proficiency in math, compared with 19 percent in 2002.
Young, at the UH Laboratory School, said that a longer school day could potentially help students achieve more.
UH Laboratory School, a charter school, has had a 7 1/2-hour school day since the 1960s.
"We have nine periods a day. All students take all subjects from the time they enroll. They're not only in what you'd think of as core subjects, but they're in music, art, performing arts, physical education," Young said.
"I think the president is absolutely right (about lengthening the school day and year)," he said. "Hawai'i has been doing some of this. With the whole notion of a year around schedule, it's basically saying the old schedule where you were off from school for 3 1/2 months is no longer justifiable from an agricultural point of view or from a learning point of view," he said.
Several schools have been experimenting with "block scheduling," which essentially allows for more instruction time under the constraints of the current teacher contracts.
For instance, at Farrington High School, students are released from school at 2:48 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursdays, students are released at 1:56 p.m.
And as opposed to having students take five or six periods of courses in a day, students attend four periods at 85 minutes each.
"We have the longest school day in the state. So it is possible," said Catherine Payne, Farrington's principal.
Because a teacher's work day is only seven hours, teachers generally stagger their work schedules. Teachers either start earlier or later to cover the entire day.
"We definitely need to lengthen the school day. But it may not necessarily have to be for every student," Payne said.
Payne proposed lengthening the day for students who need extra help or those who participate in more enrichment classes, such as band or art. "It needs to be more acceptable to have tutoring programs and enrichment classes be held after the regular school day," she said.
Reach Loren Moreno at firstname.lastname@example.org.