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Hawaii Can Turn the Tide Despite a Shortened School Year

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
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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.

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Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Comments (19) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Mary's picture
1st grade teacher from Barstow, California

I totally agree with everyone's point of view. United States Public Schools are not living up to the high standards that we all want for our children due to bureacracy. It is all about politics! Politicians do too much talking and arguing, not enough action to make any progress whether in our school-system, environment, health care, should I say more. How can we compete with the best schools in the world if all we do is cut educational funding and pray that we can do without the needed resources to ensure quality programs and curriculum?

E. Brice's picture

I agree with others, the problem is deeper than the number of days. As far as year round school, the schedule presented has too many gaps between sessions. We as teachers would spend more time reviewing if students had a six week vacation. I tend toward year round schools, but increase the days. The recent economy is not going to allow that, so until someone decides that our schools are just as important as business we're back to where we started. The 21st century skills for students are going to require a change in education and we all know change does not come easy or quick.

Cindy's picture

I live in Hawaii, and I agree that adding or subtracting school days may not make a difference in Hawaii's national rank standing. However, the fact that the school district would agree to cut school days and educational programs sets a negative tone. The furlough days inform students that their education is not important enough for the state to make sacrifices in other areas. This evident lack of concern for student achievement reveals a negative tone and low expectations. If the school district does not desire for its students to achieve, then how can students achieve?

I also agree with you that Hawaii would benefit from making changes in the way its schools greet, value, and inspire students. Hawaii has wonderful cultural diversity, and I believe the schools should celebrate this diversity. Hawaii schools, teachers, and students would benefit tremendously by presenting curriculum with sensitivity to all of Hawaii's multi-ethnic population.

jennifer leslie's picture

I know the recession has hit many hard, but i guess I don't understand why they have to cut school days? Is it because they cannot afford to pay the teachers? If so that's unfortunate because education should be the last area we have to make cuts to. Christine, what do you think the problem is with the schools in Hawaii? Do you think education is important to them? It's just a question, because i know in some areas educational importance differs.

Maurice J. Elias's picture
Maurice J. Elias
Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

Thanks for making a very important point. Regardless of the functional reality, cutting school days does make a statement to students and to parents about the importance of education, compared to other basic services. I believe those making the decision were not concerned about the potential for harm in what they are doing, both in terms of cutting the days and also in not changing how schooling in Hawaii takes place. In future blogs, I intend to look more carefully at why educators continue to deny the integral role of social-emotional and character factors in learning, despite growing evidence of its importance.

Sue's picture
Retired Teacher

I am a retired teacher from New York City which also has a very diverse and difficult student population. Now I spend 6 months in Hawaii and have been following the news about Hawaiian schools. This is the first time I ever heard of teacher planning days. Our planning was done on our time or on the daily prep period given to the teachers. We had over 180 days of instruction and now (not while I was teaching) the school day has been extended. Granted the salaries are higher but much more seems to be expected. What kind of example does the educationnal system set by the continual battle of non teaching days. I also think that instead of education cuts there are probably many other excess that could be cut to balance the budget instead of the children.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

It amazes me all the excuses that are found to make American children suffer even more. School should be number one. When school is cut children sit at home on the X-Box, play more video games, learn about violence, sex, drugs, and watch tv. They do not read, learn how to think critically and go outdoors and have FUN!! They do not play board games, have conversations about the news and cook a big dinner and eat together at the dinner table. Most American families do not eat together.

I have taught in NY and Calif and I watch children being told to "go home" QUICKLY at the end of the school day because of safety. There are no more art and sports. Children are home alone and our society wonders why our children are a problem.

Few legislators have any clue of what actually happens in a public school. Students need school all day. Most children come from single parents and are able to receive very little emotional support from home. I rarely have parents show up to Conferences or Back to School Night. Most tell me they go home, eat in front of the tv with their siblings, and might do homework. They are often alone with no parent.

What is the logic and reasoning of pushing our children out of school, when they deserv an education? They need to be in school learning more and more. This is a generation with more technology than ever, and they are very savvy. But, they are reading, writing, computing and critically thinking less than any other generation.

Every day makes a difference. 17 days is a lot for a child who is spending 17 more days in front of video games.

That's a terrible trade in.

Brad's picture

I also agree, that adding or taking away days is not going to improve Hawaii's situation. I believe it is a system problem that needs to be updated. A gentleman named Furman Brown started the Brooklyn Generation School in NYC as a pilot for a newly designed school schedule. It is a creative approach that addresses a lot of the issues that teachers have with the traditional schedule. There is an article titled NYC School Marches to Unorthodox Schedule that explains how the new system reduces student load and does not cost more to operate.
As we move forward, in times where information and education is at our fingertips, I feel radical changes have to take place in our education system in order to challenge and motivate the students of tomorrow.

Suzan Winkelman's picture

I like your school calendar. It takes in to account the learning of the students and what seems to be best for them.

So how do we get the powers that be to listen to us?

jason Hufalar's picture

You're so right. I have been attempting to inform the public and speak to educators. Problem is, we are spending all our money on roads and enrichment programs to attract Tourists. Yep, Seems like we just cannot grab the concept that nobody sat the pre adolescent skateboarder kid in a 40 hour classroom and instructed him on how to avoid viruses on MySpace, or how to upload, we are going to take our stimulis and build nice things for the rich kids of the future to enjoy while we serve lemon water and spritz the fat lady with the sunburn. But, if anybody out there can help me, there is a grant due date on the 08/16, this particular grant is to assist HAWAIIANS, I am doing my best to do it all on my own, and believe me, I have gotten a lot of resistance. You may notice that we are catering to the visitors (UH COLLEGES, MILITARY CONTRACTS, ) even the big construction companies Swinerton and good fellows are not local, but I guess you need mainland companies to pave roads for mainland people? And the best part of it all, is that we all know that none of you fly all the way to Maui to come see a play, or a painting, or to hire a guy from San Diego, so, that's how it is for now. Mahalo for your attention

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