George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Trends

Extending the School Day Could Be Worth the Cost

November 17, 2009

I agree with Maurice Elias's blog entry about furlough days for Hawaii's public schools -- a total redesign of the school day to meet the needs of our 21st-century learners. This means relevant, creative-project and service-learning environments aligned not only to state standards but also to student interests.

I am happy to share that one nonprofit corporation in Hawaii is doing just this. The Ho'okako'o Corporation (HC) is dedicated to transformational change that supports new opportunities for student success through conversion charter schools. Ho'okako'o is a Hawaiian word that means "to cause, to support" -- and HC is proving to be true to its name. With 1,500 students in three island schools, it is committed to redesigning public schools.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term "conversion charter school," a school in this category used to be a traditional state-supported school but elected to become a charter school. In doing so, it is able to keep its school facilities as long as it agrees to teach all children within its geographic area. (Of the 31 charter schools in Hawaii, five are conversion charters.)

HC and its three conversion charter schools are not doing teacher furloughs. They are actually moving in the opposite direction -- investing in more instructional time. HC schools are adding an extra hour to the school day, with an additional 10 days of teaching this year and 14 days next year.

In one HC school, 96 percent of the teachers voted to adopt a supplemental union contract in order to add the additional hours and days, believing that doing so is in the best interests of their students.

HC's three conversion charter schools are located on separate islands. Although each school is unique due to its island heritage, they are all Title I schools -- challenged by the impact of poverty. Native Hawaiian children, who have the highest risk factors of children in Hawaii, comprise 50-90 percent of the schools' populations.

One of the HC schools, Oahu's Kamaile Academy, in Waianae, is in the highest-poverty area in Hawaii, with close to 70 percent of its students either homeless or houseless (living in cramped quarters with multiple families.) When you drive down the main street of Waianae, the poverty jumps out at you -- weeded lots, broken bottles, torn signage, boarded-up buildings, and roadside trash. Estimates are that 5,000-6,000 people live on the beaches in the squalor of tent cities -- and not by choice.

The Kamaile Academy has a student transiency rate of 34 percent each year -- an educational revolving door as the children move from school-to-school when the state sweeps the beaches.

With guidance from the nonprofit organization Massachusetts 2020, the Kamaile Academy is piloting the Expanded Learning Time Model Initiative, increasing instructional time by 30 percent at the school.

The concept of expanded learning time requires the complete redesign of a school's educational program. For starters, ELT increases the instructional time and supports teachers by giving them more time for planning, training, and professional development.

In Hawaii, HC stands alone in innovation. Here's what it is doing:

  • Rewriting union contracts to provide teacher stipends for additional work time.
  • Piloting an ELT model with the state Department of Education.
  • Renewing Hawaiian cultural knowledge for school personnel who come from the same cultural background as students.
  • Providing all students with enrichment activities to enhance educational services provided to Native Hawaiian children.

With longer school days, HC schools now have the flexibility to create culturally healthy and responsive learning environments for at-risk students. Students experience integrated projects through observation and hands-on demonstrations of cultural knowledge and skills. They also engage in intergenerational learning practices of good stewardship, resource sustainability, and spirituality.

Historically, Native Hawaiians believe that it takes a village to raise a child. HC conversion charters have certainly taken this belief to heart -- and to practice.

Could having additional time for learning make a difference? What about at your school and for your students? Please share your thoughts and ideas.

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