Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Law mandates 180 days of instruction in schools

Furlough Fridays gave Hawaii the shortest school calendar in the nation this year

By Mary Vorsino


Never again. That's the aim of a new law, drafted in response to the teacher furloughs that gave Hawaii the shortest school year in the nation, that requires public schools to have at least 180 days of instruction.

"This is a great movement in the right direction," said Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who signed House Bill 2486 into law yesterday as acting governor. "The focus of this law is really upon improving public education."

Hawaii is the last state in the country to mandate a minimum amount of instructional time for public schools. The 180-day requirement will go into effect in the 2011 school year.

The upcoming school year will have 178 instructional days.

The new law also requires elementary schools to have at least 915 hours of instruction (which averages out to about a five-hour day) in the 2011 school year, while middle and high schools will have to have 990 hours of instruction (or about a 5 1/2 -hour day).

In the 2013 school year, all schools must have 180 instructional days but expand their instructional time to 1,080 hours (or a six-hour day on average).

Officials noted that schools will still be responsible for their individual schedules, so some schools could opt to have shorter days but a longer school calendar.

The law was one of a number considered in the last legislative session that would have mandated a minimum amount of instructional time in response to the teacher furloughs. One of those laws proposed mandating 190 instructional days.

The state implemented teacher furloughs in October, drawing the ire of parents and criticism from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The furloughs decreased the total number of instructional days by 17 to 163 in the school year that just ended.

Teacher furloughs were averted for the upcoming school year with $57 million from the hurricane relief fund and a $10 million, interest-free line of credit from local banks.

With the furloughs, Hawaii public schools had the shortest instructional calendar in the country. The second-shortest was North Dakota, with 173 days.

Thirty states have 180 instructional days, according to the Education Commission of the States.

By comparison, the Hawaii Association of Independent Schools recommends at least 880 instructional hours per school year, though the association pointed out many private schools go well above that standard.

Melanie Bailey, parent of a sixth-grader who pushed for the law requiring a minimum amount of instructional time in Hawaii public schools, said she hopes the measure is the "first step to showing what a difference members of the community can make."

She added, "My hope is that a decade from now we can take this toxic year and consider it the year we changed public education."

Public charter schools were exempted from the new law, which defines instructional time (as it's defined now) to exclude lunch or recess.

Aiona acknowledged that the law will probably cost the state more money, but couldn't say how much.

It's now up to the state Department of Education, in collective bargaining with the teachers union, to determine how to implement the new requirements.

"It's not one-size-fits-all. Every school has a different situation," said Kathryn Matayoshi, interim superintendent of schools.

Negotiations with the union will start this summer, she said, adding that it "will be a challenge" to meet the new requirements.

"But there is opportunity to be created," she said.

In a news release, Board of Education Chairman Garrett Toguchi said the instructional time law "recognizes the importance of learning time to help our students succeed."

But, he added, "Increasing instructional hours has a cost, and it will be imperative that our public school system be adequately funded under this new mandate. Failure to provide necessary support for our schools and employees would be detrimental to the quality of education and lead to layoffs."

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