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Instructional what?

Defining instructional hours to allow for greater flexibility is the one thing everyone agrees HB1675 needs in order to be effective.

Will Caron

Increasing the number of instructional hours in public schools has been a goal of the legislature for a long time, but doing so in a manner that teachers, students, parents, the Department of Education (DOE), the teacher’s union (HSTA) and other stakeholders can all get behind has proved to be a tricky bit of business.

In 2010, then acting Governor Duke Aiona signed Act 167 into law. The piece of legislation requires (among other things) that by the 2016-2018 school years, all public schools implement a school year of 180 days, comprised of 1,080 student instructional hours for both elementary and secondary school grades. (The act also required that schools increase their hours to 990 by next year, something that many schools have been struggling to accomplish, in preparation for, this year).

Originally, there were three separate bills up for discussion this session that proposed to repeal the hour requirements in Act 167. All three bills successfully crossed over, but last week, the House Committee on Education (EDN), chaired by Representative Roy Takumi, voted to defer the senate bills, punting the issue back to the Senate where the last remaining bill, HB1675, went before the Senate Committee on Education (EDU), chaired by Senator Jill Tokuda, today. The committee voted to pass the bill as an SD1 with amendments.

Chief among these amendments was language that allows the definition of “instructional hours” to remain flexible and to be dictated by the Board of Education (BOE) in consultation with stakeholders, rather than by statute; something proposed by IMUAlliance that all the stakeholders that testified agreed was a good idea.

“We would love to see things like the Secondary Student Conference, senior projects, mentorships, project-based learning, distance-learning—all those things where we know learning is taking place,” said Sen. Tokuda. “We want exposure to those teachable moments. Which means, though, that you can’t dictate that in statute, because those things change.”

Almost immediately after Act 167 was signed it came under serious fire from HSTA, the DOE and teachers, who wondered how the poorly-defined “instructional hours” were supposed to be increased without increasing resources at teachers’ disposal.

Most of the stakeholders agree that they want Act 167’s 1,080 hour requirement repealed, but have been split in each hearing as to whether they wanted HB1675 and the other bills amended and passed, or simply killed.

Again, discussion largely centered around the controversy over defining “instructional hours.”

“The interpretation of instructional hours is the big problem most schools have been having,” said Beatrice Derego, a teacher at Kahuku High & Intermediate, one of the schools that has been having trouble implementing a bell schedule that meets the 990 requirement. “Instructional time for students is face time. For teachers, it’s totally different. I support this bill because, frankly, I don’t think the 1,080 is possible unless we go to collective bargaining.”

Derego also liked the idea that the definition of instructional hours would be left up to the BOE in consultation with the other stakeholders. “Some of my students need four hours a day; some of them need ten. I’d love a schedule that was flexible enough to allow that,” she said. “I think we need to come up with a good definition of what, exactly, instructional time is, and then the bell schedules will begin to fall into place.”

“We’re in the odd position of opposing this bill, but asking you to move it forward anyway,” said Kris Coffield, the Legislative Director for IMUAlliance. “This is because it is the only vehicle left for dealing with an incredibly important issue.”

IMUAlliance supported SB2922 and Coffield testified at last week’s EDN hearing in support of the bill, pointing to its ability to grant teachers and the DOE that greater flexibility in determining what constitutes an “instruction hour.” At today’s EDU hearing, Coffield asked Chair Tokuda to consider including the elements from SB2922 that IMUAlliance supported in a conference draft of the bill, which she agreed to do.

“The primary stakeholders—HSTA and the department—in principle, agree on the bill,” said Coffield. “We understand that the DOE would need significant resources to implement it—$6.1–6.3 million for 10 additional days is the figure they quoted. We think that the more important figure to look at is actually the difference between that figure and the cost of increasing instructional hours to 990, for any schools that are left, as well as 1,080 in the future.” That figure is, as of yet, unknown, but will be much higher. As Coffield testified at the EDN hearing, IMUAlliance believes the hour requirements will become “untenable” in the future.

Several students were in the audience and their testimony likewise focused on defining instructional hours. The students were unanimously in favor of including extra curricular activities, sports and other non-classroom learning in the definition of “instructional time,” and in keeping the definition flexible.

“Unarguably, there should be some baseline minimum for instructional hours and there needs to be consistency between schools, but are more hours necessarily better?” asked Michelle Fortunado, a junior at Kalaheo High School. “People do not become great by sitting in the classroom and listening 100 percent of the time. Is real-world experience not just as important? This is the ability to apply what one learns in school. Without this, what is the point of knowing things? It will be indescribably beneficial for students to be able to obtain instructional hours through senior projects, the science fair and events such as the Secondary Student Conference. There is no doubt that these activities will prepare students all over Hawaii for college and life in the real world just as well as, if not better than, hours in the classroom.”

But some were confused or misinformed by their own teachers about the details of the bill. One student from Moanalua High opposed the bill thinking that it was the vehicle to implement the 1,080 requirement, rather than repeal it. This same student was also told by her teacher that only core classes were included in the current definition of “instructional time,” something Sen. Tokuda refuted.

“We need to put [the definition of instructional hours] in the hands of those people who are best able to do that, which is the Board of Education,” said Tokuda. “They are constitutionally tasked with studying statewide educational policy. So let’s also give them the task, now, of establishing what is instructional time. And so that’s what this bill does.”

The bill now heads to Senator David Ige’s Ways and Means Committee.