State lawmakers move to cap required time for instruction

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State lawmakers move to cap required time for instruction

A bill aims to curb a law that increases teaching hours for all public schools

By Nanea Kalani

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Feb 08, 2015

Lawmakers for a fourth straight year are considering dialing back the 2010 law that lengthened Hawaii’s school day and imposed minimum instructional hours at public schools.

Advocates of the law want to see minimum learning times preserved to ensure consistency across schools and help bring Hawaii in line with other states. But the state Department of Education says complying with the law is onerous for schools and the union representing teachers says it infringes on collective bargaining rights.

The law was passed in the wake of Furlough Fridays, when teachers were furloughed for 17 Fridays and Hawaii was blasted for having the shortest school year in the nation.

The law requires schools have at least 180 instructional days a year — a requirement schools have been meeting since. But the phased-in increases in mandated hours have been a challenge as schools have had to overhaul their schedules to meet the law without exceeding teachers’ contracted seven-hour work day and other contractual requirements such as teacher planning time.

Under Act 167, elementary schools for the past two years have been required to provide 915 instructional hours a year, or an average of five hours and five minutes of instruction daily. Middle and high schools starting this school year are required to provide 990 hours a year, or an average of five hours and 30 minutes of instruction per day.

The law increases minimum learning time to an average of six hours a day for a total of 1,080 hours a year for all schools starting with the 2016-17 school year. It also requires the Department of Education to come up with a plan to further lengthen the school year to 190 days, which would cost an estimated $55 million more a year.

At existing levels, Hawaii requires more time in earlier grades than most states, but less time in later grades than most states.

Among the 33 other states that mandate minimum instructional hours, six require fewer than 990 hours for high school grades, with the rest at or above the 990-hour mark, according to the Denver-based Education Commission of the States. Ten states require at least 1,080 instructional hours a year for high-schoolers.

Building schedules around the teachers’ contract requirements has been a challenge for schools, and the DOE says many have had to increase class sizes or hire more teachers to comply.

For example, teachers aren’t supposed to work more than seven hours a day or past 4:30 p.m., under the contract. Schools also are required to provide teachers with a “duty-free” lunch period of at least 30 minutes, and teachers cannot teach more than three hours straight without a break, lunch or recess of at least 15 minutes.

“We’ve spent this incredible amount of time counting and focusing on compliance and accounting for minutes and tweaking definitions, and it’s been very burdensome,” DOE Deputy Super­intendent Ronn Nozoe recently told the Board of Education. “It’s caused a lot of frustration and it’s been, frankly, a distraction from some of our priorities.

“We will always do our best to meet all the requirements and exceed expectations, but I would be remiss if I wasn’t honest with you that this has caused a lot of pain and suffering,” he said.

Nozoe added that the department has not been able to link increased seat time with improved academic achievement.

“Year after year, we have not been able to measure a relationship between seat time and student outcomes,” he said. “More time has not yielded us better results.”

House Bill 14, introduced by the chairman and vice chairman of the House Education Committee, would repeal the increase to 1,080 hours for all schools and leave it up to the BOE to determine what should count toward “instructional hours.”

The law currently defines it for all schools as time when students “are engaged in learning activities including regularly scheduled instruction and learning assessments within the curriculum.” It discounts lunch, recess and between-class time.

The DOE supports the bill’s intent, but the Hawaii State Teachers Association is seeking an outright repeal, arguing that any increase to instructional time should be collectively bargained for with increased compensation, and not mandated in statute. The union effectively killed past attempts to amend the law.

“The challenge that our schools have had trying to implement Act 167 … has been overwhelming for our schools, for our staff and ultimately does not do what we think your original intent was,” HSTA Vice President Joan Lewis testified before members of the House Education Committee last week.

She said the union appreciates the need for consistency at schools, but added that the law as written is too prescriptive.

“The word ‘instructional’ is where our problem is,” Lewis said. “If this committee sees fit to take out the term instructional, what constitutes instructional, and just says, from (the starting school) bell to (ending) bell for 180 days … that we can stand by, because it allows for the flexibility within the schools. It’s when you start getting more specific that it becomes problematic.”

State Rep. Takashi Ohno, vice chairman of the Education Committee and a former elementary school teacher, said the proposed legislation aims to keep the existing minimums as a baseline while protecting against a repeat of Furlough Fridays.

“If this bill had become law before 2009, I would have had 17 extra days to make sure my kids in third grade were better prepared for fourth grade,” said Ohno, who taught at Fern Elementary School before being elected to office in 2012.

Asked if the union could provide any assurance furloughs wouldn’t recur, Lewis said HSTA is “no longer interested in going down that route,” but still wants the law repealed.

The Hui for Excellence in Education, or HE‘E Coalition, made up of community and parent groups that opposed furloughs, testified in support of HB14.

Director Cheri Nakamura said the group supports eliminating the increase to 1,080 hours “because we know that schools have been challenged and will be further challenged with the increase in hours, especially without financial support.”

“Hopefully with the elimination of the increase in hours and the broadening of the definition, schools can create schedules that are best for students,” she said, adding that the rest of the law should be kept intact.

“Prior to the law, schools were furloughed and so the 180-day requirement is necessary,” Nakamura said. “The law has also brought equity to schools across the state. Before the law, there were huge disparities in schools, and in some instances, some schools had the equivalent of more than a month’s worth less in instruction than other schools.”

House Education Committee Chairman Roy Takumi postponed decision-making on the bill until Wednesday, but said he intends to move it forward. A companion Senate bill, SB822, hasn’t been scheduled for an initial hearing.