HONOLULU — 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. Education advocates are incensed that Hawaii is drastically cutting the academic calendar 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 school 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 ... 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 compared 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 deal in Hawaii has parents and education authorities up in arms, including families now scrambling to find day care for the off days. Parents of special-needs students are considering suing the state, and advocates think the plan will have a "disparate impact" on poor families, ethnic communities and single parents.
The new contract, approved by 81 percent of voting teachers, stipulates 17 furlough Fridays when schools will be closed. The teachers accepted a concurrent pay reduction of about 8 percent, but teachers' vacation, nine paid holidays and six teacher planning days were untouched.