The state's public middle and high schools will be legally required to provide at least 990 hours of instruction beginning next school year, the first time in history Hawaii has implemented a minimum number of student learning hours for secondary schools, according to a state Department of Education report presented to lawmakers Friday.
Historically, Hawaii is one of few states that lacked a minimum instructional time rule. It wasn't until "furlough Fridays" in 2009 trimmed the school year down to only 163 days that lawmakers decided to pass Act 167, and then Act 52, which required public schools to maintain a minimum of 180 school days per year, as well as a minimum number of student instructional hours that increased over time, the report said.
Beginning next school year, all Hawaii public schools will be required to provide a minimum of 990 hours of student learning time per year, which is defined by the state DOE as time "during which students are engaged in learning activities including regularly scheduled instruction and learning assessments within the curriculum." It does not include lunch, recess or passing time.
Kihei Elementary School mom Vanessa Marquez picks up her three children and her niece on a recent afternoon after school. She said she drops them off and picks them up every day and is not a fan of the traffic. “Just crossing the street, it’s not safe really,” she said. School schedules, especially at high and intermediate schools, may be changing next school year to accommodate the 990 hours of instruction annually as mandated by the state Legislature. However, education officials are asking the Legislature this session to define “instructional time.”
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
As the law stands now, the minimum student instructional hours will be bumped up to 1,080 hours in 2016 and again in 2018 to 1,146 hours per year.
But lawmakers and the DOE are still working out some of the kinks with Acts 167 and 52, one of the major issues being a discrepancy between the amount of student learning time mandated by the law and the amount of teaching time negotiated in the Hawaii State Teachers Association collective bargaining agreement.
The HSTA collective bargaining agreement, effective 2013 to 2017, requires 1,285 minutes per week of "teacher instructional time," but Act 167 and 52 require an average of 1,650 minutes of "student learning time."
The HSTA's definition of "teacher instructional time," like the state department's, does not include lunch, recess or passing time. Where they differ is over homeroom, study hall, scheduled activity periods on a voluntary basis, or faculty, departmental, grade level or curriculum meetings. The DOE considers this instructional time, and the HSTA does not.
It is possible to come up with a bell schedule that satisfies both the collective bargaining agreement and state law, and each secondary school's administration has or is currently deliberating on how to comply with both. The DOE provided each school with four standardized bell schedules they may choose from, nearly all of which lengthen the current school day. Schools also have the option of submitting their own schedules for approval, though they must comply with both the law and the bargaining agreement.
But HTSA President Wil Okabe said no decision can be made until student instructional time is defined clearly by lawmakers.
"The Legislature has passed this law, but they haven't defined what it means. Does homeroom period, after-school clubs or passing time count as instructional time?" Okabe asked.
He said the HSTA is not opposed to adding more student learning hours or lengthening the school day, as long as teachers are compensated for any extra time they are required to put in under the new law.
There is currently no provision in the law that sets aside money to compensate teachers for additional instruction time, Okabe said.
"This law was made outside of the agreement with HSTA, and lawmakers have to address it this session before the upcoming school year. If the Legislature feels this is something they would like to do, offer a change in the budget to give teachers compensation to extend the school day. HSTA is more than willing to look at that avenue," Okabe said.
DOE officials also recommended Friday that lawmakers clarify the definition of student learning time, and also that they keep the minimum hours at 990 instead of bumping it up to 1,080 hours in 2016 and then 1,146 hours in 2018.
"I"m confident we will do everything that needs to be done to reach the 990 instructional hours, but it will be very challenging for schools," Deputy Superintendent Ronn Nozoe said in a statement.
At least one Maui school administrator thinks that the school day is already long enough and doesn't believe that more instructional time would necessarily lead to more learning.
"Quality instruction and quality time is always more important than quantity," Maui Waena Co-Vice Principal Jacqueline McCandless said. "You don't want to oversaturate a student in a day . . . Right now, some students are already spent by the end of the day."
Others believe that more instructional time will be "a great thing" for students.
"I think it's exciting, there's never enough time in the day to get all the standards that we need to address," Lahainaluna High School Principal Emily De Costa said.
De Costa acknowledged that figuring out a bell schedule that complies with both state law and the HSTA bargaining agreement would be a challenge. She said she expects to extend the school day at least an extra hour from 2 to at least 3 p.m., though "nothing is set yet."
A separate measure currently moving through the Legislature this session, Senate Bill 2922, suggests that the state repeal the minimum instructional hour requirements and instead extend the school year by 10 days from the current 180 to 190 days beginning with the 2015-16 school year.
"I don't think there's any correlation between instructional hours (in a day) and student achievement," said state Sen. David Ige who introduced the bill. "Some schools have very few instructional hours but are higher achieving schools. Other schools have lots of instructional hours, but the students aren't achieving. But there is data that correlates the length of school year with student achievement."
DOE officials said the additional days proposed in Senate Bill 2922 would cost the department nearly $6 million in salary, utility, maintenance and other operational costs.
* Eileen Chao can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.