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Hawaii Lawmakers Push Plan to Repeal Mandate for More Instructional Time

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Some legislators in Hawaii are attempting to revoke a state law that is phasing in a higher minimum amount of instructional time for the state's public schools.

In 2010, following two years in which the state board of education cut a total of 34 days out of the school year to save money during a state budget crisis, the legislature passed H.B. 2486, which requires all schools in Hawaii (not including charters or schools on year-round, multi-track schedules) to offer 1,080 hours of instruction a year by 2016-17.

As outlined in an excellent article in Honolulu Civil Beat, the law, better known as Act 167, was designed to protect the school calendar from over-zealous budget-cutters and to equalize instructional time among Hawaii's 255 schools. Currently, some schools offer less than 800 hours of classroom time a year, while others exceed 1,000 hours a year, or six hours a day.

It's not unusual for states to require that schools offer more than 1,000 hours of instruction throughout the year. Maryland, Michigan, Kansas, and Wisconsin are among the states that do so for students in grades 1-12.

However, while many Hawaii parents have welcomed more instructional time, educators have complained that the state mandate is proving difficult to implement, partly because the current, four-year contract with the Hawaii State Teachers Union (HSTA) only pays teachers for working seven-hour days. Some schools resent having to spend more money expanding the school day when they are seeing success with shorter hours.

Now, legislators are considering H.B. 1675, a measure that would require all elementary schools to teach just 915 hours a year and all secondary schools to teach just 990 hours a year (about five-and-a-half hours a day), an increase the current law phases in during the 2014-15 school year. It would also make the state board of education define "student instructional hours" with the teachers' union, which might widen the definition to include time spent on senior projects or science fairs.

"Different students engage in a vast array of activities on our campuses, including robotics, senior projects, project-based learning, etc. Thus, variances in instructional time between students and schools will persist," Wil Okabe, the HSTA president, said in testimony before the state Senate Ways and Means Committee in March.

"Factors beyond instructional time increase influence student achievement," Okabe noted, citing Finland's short school days and relatively high scores on the global PISA exam. He also noted that some Hawaii schools that are open for fewer hours have had higher student gains than schools with more hours. (The HSTA opposes the minimum instructional hour requirements in both Act 167 and H.B. 1675.)

"The approach should be one of differentiation," Sen. Jill Tokuda, who introduced the Senate version of the bill, told Honolulu Civil Beat. "It's not just about keeping John and Janey in a chair longer—it's about asking ourselves a very fundamental question: Are they learning?" added Sen. Tokuda, who is the chairwoman of her chamber's education committee.

Read more about Hawaii's recent educational challenges in this story by Education Week's Michele McNeil.

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