To cope with budget cuts, Hawaii is cutting 17 days from the school year. Students will not attend classes on Friday for most of the rest of the school year, according to the Associated Press.
This appears to be the most drastic response to the severe budget crisis facing schools nationwide, and certainly makes Georgia’s furlough days seem slight in comparison.
At a time when President Barack Obama is pushing for more time in the classroom, his home state has created the nation’s shortest school year under a new union contract that closes schools on most Fridays for the remainder of the academic calendar.
The deal whacks 17 days from the school year for budget-cutting reasons and has education advocates incensed that Hawaii is drastically cutting the academic calendar at a time when it already ranks near the bottom in national educational achievement.
While many school districts have laid off or furloughed teachers, reduced pay and planning days and otherwise cut costs, Hawaii’s 171,000 public schools students now find themselves with only 163 instructional days, compared with 180 in most districts in the U.S.
“The 16-year-old in me is pretty excited that I’ll be able to chill on those days,” said Mark Aoki, a junior at Roosevelt High in Honolulu. “But overall within me, what I truly believe is that we’ll regret this.”
The cuts come as Obama, who graduated from a top private high school in Hawaii, says U.S. students are at a disadvantage with other students around the world because they spend too little time in school.
He wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go. He declared recently that “the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.”
The new contract, approved by 81 percent of voting teachers, stipulates 17 furlough Fridays during which schools will be closed, with the first happening Oct. 23. The teachers accepted a concurrent pay reduction of about 8 percent, but teacher vacation, nine paid holidays and six teacher planning days are left untouched.
Hawaii Schools Superintendent Pat Hamamoto acknowledges that learning time will be lost and students will suffer, but she says schools will try to increase their efforts during the remaining school days to cram in as much teaching as they can.
Is the Hawaiian superintendent dreaming? Can teachers possibly cram in enough to compensate for more than three weeks of missed classes?
This seems like the wrong approach for a state that lags behind the rest of the country on many academic measures.
Or do these drastic times call for drastic measures?