Edutopia on Facebook
Edutopia on Twitter
Edutopia on Google+
Edutopia on Pinterest Follow Me on Pinterest
WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
Subscribe to RSS

Hawaii Can Turn the Tide Despite a Shortened School Year

Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger

You may have heard the story that due to the recession, Hawaii has cut 17 days from its school year, leaving 163 days of instruction instead of the more typical 180 days. The story suggests that with Hawaii near the bottom of educational achievement, it can't afford to lose those days.

But I would like to suggest that because Hawaii already ranks as one of the lowest states academically, restoring those 17 days won't matter -- nor would adding ten more.

The bottom line is that we must make changes in the way our schools greet, value, and inspire students. If schools do not provide climates that are safe, challenging, supporting, and primed to help students' social-emotional and character development as a complement to their academic learning, 180 instructional days offer little clear advantage over 163.

Perhaps this crisis will force those in charge of education to think out of their current box.

It could propel those leaders to embrace the growing research on the academic benefits of student engagement, project learning, service learning, and safe and supportive school climates where teachers are empowered to be creative in their instruction while still following curriculum goals.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts on this issue.

Maurice Elias

Professor, Rutgers University Psychology Department and Edutopia Blogger
Related Tags:

Comments (19)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

odżywki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks for your post.Nice webdesign.

Adelbert Wilber's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I've said it before and I'll continue beating my drum until the paradigm shifts, the school year needs to be all year round, with compulsory education ending at age 16. Those children who actually WANT an education and WANT to learn will continue their academic studies, those who opt for a trade, should enter an apprenticeship program with an eduction tailored toward their chosen occupation. This is what Finland does, the number one school system in the world for the past 12 years. The school year could actually begin the second week of July, go for 9 weeks, followed by a two-week break, then run another 9 weeks, followed by a 6-week break for Christmas and Thanksgiving. School would reconvene in January, run another 9 weeks, then take 2 weeks off for Spring Break, reconvene again at the end of March and run for 9 weeks, until Memorial Day weekend. Then school would take a 6-week hiatus through the 4th of July for Summer Break. With this schedule, students would be subjected to fewer breaks to interrupt their continuity, they would get much-needed breaks between semesters, and they would still get most of their major holidays off, including a 6-week Thanksgiving and Christmas break. The only real drawback would be for school like the one I teach at, which still has no air conditioning!

Lynne Horiuchi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I wholeheartedly agree with you that adding or subtracting days from Hawaii's school year will make a difference. I live in Hawaii. The biggest problem is that it is a state run school system with an enormous bureaucracy. Change comes slowly if at all. That combined with a large immigrant population (poverty and language barriers), a large military population (transient) and a large private school presence and you have a recipe for low performance. They (the powers that be) want quick, easy fixes. They need total transformation.

Suzie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi Maurice,
Not so long ago, it was Oregon--my home state--that was in the national spotlight for cutting school days. Our shuttered schools were the subject of jokes from late-night talk show hosts. We even got satirized in Doonesbury.
Things improved for a while, as chagrined voters and legislators found the will to improve school funding. But the current recession is putting the squeeze on school budgets all over again.
This boom-or-bust approach fails everyone. You suggest that we need to change the way our schools "greet, value, and inspire students," and that's a good start. But we also need to strengthen the bonds between school and community. Projects that connect kids and community members offer an ideal place to invest instructional time. Real-world projects give students authentic, meaningful problems to solve, and also remind community members (i.e., voters) that our young people are a resource worth supporting.

Andrew Pass's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think that you are completely correct. Seventeen more or less school days will not significantly influence an ineffective school system. You write, "It could propel those leaders to embrace the growing research on the academic benefits of student engagement, project learning, service learning, and safe and supportive school climates where teachers are empowered to be creative in their instruction while still following curriculum goals."

I could agree more. At the beginning of the Twenty First Century this kind of thinking might also consider the incredible opportunities offered by advanced technology.

Andrew Pass

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Suzie, thank you for adding your constructive suggestion and making the point that while greeting, etc., is important, many more related approaches are both needed- and available- to make the kind of comprehensive change that you and others who have commented on this blog believe are needed.

Stephanie Gage's picture

Mr. Wilber (or anyone else who could possibly answer),

You mentioned some of the logistical happenings in Finnish schools, but do you know what else they are doing to achieve the number one ranking? What kind of curriculum approaches are used in schools? Idealist? Constructivist? Are parents and community members heavily involved in the schools?

I ask because I think that simply implementing a year round schedule might help some, especially initially, but wouldn't be significantly effective unless other changes are made to the inherent fundamentals of our schools.

Great post, Mr. Elias!

Christine Smith's picture

Shortening the school year by 17 days won't make a difference because the problem is much deeper. I lived in Hawaii for 4 years as a military spouse and at the time I was looking to get my degree in teaching. I knew right away that there was not way I would teach in Hawaii. The reason for that is because the teachers are not paid well. Of course, teachers aren't paid like they should be in any state, but Hawaii is just ridiculous. It is very expensive to live there and Hawaii has no hope of recruiting teachers to move there, or stay there if they cannot pay the teachers enough to live. I also lived there when the teachers (and nurses) went on strike. Now that should tell you something. In response to Lynne: you cannot blame immigrant students, military children or anything else. A lot of states have that type of population and they still do well.

Charlene Ammons's picture

Turning around any school system usually involves more than one particular issue, so in one sense, I agree with with Mr. Elias's assertion that cutting days does not impact the success or failure of a school. Yet when I think of the "summer slump," I question the decision to cut school days, because it is at the students' expense. If Hawaii struggles with poverty, transient populations, large bureaucracy, etc., then it seems that year-round school certainly could address such dilemmas, but I wonder if it addresses budget concerns, particularly if teacher salaries make it difficult to entice and retain quality teachers. Does anyone know if year-round school is cost-effective?

Sign in and Join the Discussion! Not a member? Register to join the discussion.