School’s out for Fridays. Hawaii’s 256 public schools have switched to a four-day school week as part of statewide cost cuts. Hawaii now has the shortest academic calender in the country, with only 163 school days each year. Parents and politicians are protesting against the new “Furlough Fridays” program. “We are about to rob 17 days from our children’s school year,” lamented Democratic representative Neil Abercrombie. “Days they will never get back.”
The policy has left parents scrambling to find adequate supervision for their liberated little ones—and local news agencies fearing the worst. The Honolulu Advertiser predicted that students would “wind up at grandma’s house or . . . simply be unsupervised at Hawaii’s beaches and malls.” But in the face of a projected $1-billion state deficit, schools superintendent Patricia Hamanoto insists there is no choice: “During this difficult economic period the department is utilizing the resources it has.”
Four-day school weeks were first introduced in the U.S. during the 1970s gas shortages in an effort to save on fuel. Today, the practice is growing: Marc Egan, director of federal affairs at the National School Boards Association, estimates that “100 schools in as many as 16 states have already moved to a four-day school week.”
Ironically, President Barack Obama—himself a product of Hawaiian public schools—has argued that “the challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom.” Parents at Noelani Elementary, the very primary school that Obama attended, vehemently agree: they staged a “walk-in” protest of “Furlough Fridays” two weeks ago. Hawaii’s 171,000 public school students could use as much time as possible in the classroom: the state ranks 47th out of 50 in reading and mathematics among 13-year-olds.