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Schools make strides despite length of day

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The amount of instructional time offered at elementary schools statewide varies widely —from 4 1⁄3 to six hours on average each day — but there appears to be no correlation between campuses with shorter school days and those meeting annual learning benchmarks, new state data show.

Twelve of the 37 schools that offer school days of at least five hours, five minutes on average, the minimum expected to go into effect next school year, did not meet adequate yearly math and reading proficiency goals in 2010 under the No Child Left Behind law, according to statistics compiled by the state Department of Education.

But dozens of schools that were below the minimums did meet the benchmarks, including Moanalua Elementary, which has the second-shortest day of Hawaii public elementary schools.

That campus gives students an average of four hours, 21 minutes of instruction per day.

DOE administrators say the statistics, released as parents and lawmakers are pushing to lengthen Hawaii’s school day, illustrate that more instructional time doesn’t necessarily translate into sizable learning gains — or mean students at schools with fewer instructional hours are falling behind. More important, they argue, is not the number of hours students get in classrooms, but whether they are getting high-quality instruction.

"There’s no real apparent correlation between time and meeting AYP (adequate yearly progress)," said schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi. "Some of the schools with a lot of time are not meeting our learning targets, and some who are really short are."

Matayoshi voiced concern, though, about the wide range of school hours, saying it’s time to close the gap between the campuses with the longest school days and those with the shortest.

The DOE did not compile instructional hours for secondary schools, which also follow a wide range of bell schedules.

Parent advocacy groups say the DOE figures linked to student proficiency goals don’t tell the whole story —because student body demographics weren’t considered and schools with more instructional hours could be seeing gains, just not enough to hit annual math and reading proficiency benchmarks.

They also say the push to extend Hawaii’s school day is about bringing the state in line with national standards, while recognizing that a host of systemic improvements will need to be made to boost performance at struggling schools.

"Everyone agrees the quality of teachers is very important," said Kathy Hunter, of the Hui for Excellence in Education. "But there also needs to be sufficient time. As a parent, I have an expectation of a certain amount of (instructional time)."

Valerie Sonoda, president of the Hawaii State PTSA, said lengthening the school day is also key to making sure students receive a well-rounded education — with opportunities for fitness programs, art classes or other enrichment. In a perfect world, she added, the school day would run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"There’s got to be a happy medium," she said. "Such a short period of time, it’s not good for the kids, and it’s not good for the teachers."

INSTRUCTIONAL TIME emerged as a hot-button education issue this year at the Legislature, with teachers fearing that minimums could force them to give up valuable preparation time and parents growing angry over a proposed delay in implementing a law aimed at making Hawaii’s school day longer.

Last week the full Senate and House approved a bill requiring half of the state’s elementary schools to offer at least five hours, five minutes of instructional time on average each day in the 2011-12 school year.

And by 2014, middle and high schools will be required to offer at least 51⁄2 hours of instruction on average each day. (No secondary schools currently meet that minimum, though a handful are close.)

The measure, now before the governor, would amend Act 167, passed in last year’s legislative session, which required all schools to meet minimum hours starting next school year.

The bill exempts public charter and multitrack schools, and keeps a requirement from Act 167 that all schools have at least 180 instructional days.

Act 167 also called for further extending the school day in 2013, to at least six hours. Lawmakers are proposing to push that ambitious goal to 2016.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said she understands parents’ frustration but also thinks requiring campuses to meet unrealistic minimums will only hurt students.

The DOE has said that fully implementing Act 167 next school year could cost $45 million to $55 million in additional personnel costs. Instructional hours are also subject to union negotiations, and teachers must approve new bell schedules by a two-thirds vote.

"I think by looking at this phase-in that’s realistic, we are saying there does need to be a base. There does need to be a standard," Tokuda said, adding that the debate over school hours should be part of a bigger discussion on education reform.

"It’s clear that seat time alone does not result in increased student achievement," she said. "In addition to seat time, it’s also about highly effective teachers. It’s about parental engagement. It’s all of these different aspects that will ultimately result in better learning for our students."

The new DOE figures show that 22 percent of elementary schools offer at least five hours, five minutes of instruction on average each day, or 1,525 minutes each week.

Some schools are far above the minimum standard: Alvah Scott Elementary in Aiea has the longest school day, an average of six hours. Kaiulani and Laie elementary schools round out the top three.

Kaiulani Elementary Principal Rodney Moriwake said the schedule is possible thanks to resource teachers: During collaboration time for grade-level teachers, students get instruction in art, music, Hawaiian studies or technology.

"Instruction does not stop," Moriwake said. "The time block we set aside (for teacher collaboration) is during the latter part of the day. It does not impact math and reading instruction."

Hana Elementary on Maui offers the least amount of instructional time, 1,300 minutes per week, because the campus is on a four-day schedule. Their instructional day averages out to five hours, 25 minutes each day. Spread over five days, that average decreases to four hours, 20 minutes.

On Fridays at Hana, teachers get professional development while students can go to tutoring or supplemental electives, such as art or cultural programs.

Special cases like Hana spurred lawmakers to push for a waiver process. The new instructional-hours measure gives the Board of Education the power to issue waivers to schools that can’t meet the minimums.

With the instructional-hours bill almost certain to become law, Matayoshi said the department is planning to work with schools and the Hawaii State Teachers Association to bring campuses up to the minimum. The first step, she said, is to ensure that schools are properly calculating instructional time.

That time at elementary schools does not include recess or lunch, which typically add another hour to the school day.

At secondary schools the definition of instructional time is less clear: The DOE is trying to figure out whether it can consider extracurricular activities as instructional and, if so, how it would calculate that time because not all students participate in after-school clubs or sports.

Under the bill before the governor, the DOE must report to the Legislature by September on their progress in lengthening the school day and determining how it will bring secondary schools up to the minimum.

"We would like to think about ways to enrich the school day (at secondary schools), but not necessarily just saying the bell rings at a later time," Matayoshi said. "But then, how do you count that?"

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