One of the most rewarding aspects of writing for ChicagoNow is meeting and collaborating with others who are just as passionate about educational issues as I am.
I had the opportunity to meet Tracy Baldwin who is a Chicago resident and advocate for her children’s education. She is the founder of 6.5 to Thrive. I am grateful to Tracy for her insights and opinions on this guest post! In her words….
Chicago Public Schools will now have a 7 hour day for elementary schools and a 7.5 hour day for high school. An additional 10 days of school was added to the calendar.
(For comparison, the school day of the 10 top-performing suburban elementary schools averages just under 6.5 hours .)
It’s no secret that Chicago Public Schools, the third largest district in the nation, is one of the lowest performing in academic achievement. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and others believe that a longer school day will improve academic outcomes—even though the research is inconclusive at best.
Problems with the Longer Day
- CPS faces a $665 million budget deficit. Adding more time to the day requires time and resources CPS doesn’t have.
- The district is negotiating a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union. Included in negotiations is the promise of 477 new teachers costing $40 to $50 million per year.
- Where will the money come from for the new teachers? Will it be at the expense of other programs?
- To pay for the longer day, CPS has depleted its cash reserves, which caused the leading credit agencies to lower its credit rating—making it more expensive for the district to borrow money.
Why was the Mayor hell bent on extending the school day?
It was a campaign promise, and he truly believes it will help. Research is inconclusive about the length of the day and improved test scores or graduation rates. More important is the quality of the day and factors like class size.
Longer Day Won’t Improve Academic Achievement
The Mayor and CPS largely ignored data on a few CPS schools currently with a 6.5 hour day. There are 13 CPS elementary schools that have long had a 6.5 hour day, and these schools’ test scores outperform the CPS average by 15 percent overall and 143 percent at eighth grade. Another 12 schools—like my daughter’s school , Coonley—instituted a 6.5 hour day last year with little fanfare and virtually no additional cost to CPS.
By contrast, Chicago charter schools with 7.5 hour or longer school days perform no better than the CPS average. Clearly, the longer day is not the secret to improving academic achievement.
Parents and Stakeholders Were Ignored
Numerous grassroots parent groups have tried to be included in the education reform process, but we are largely ignored. Sixteen parent groups opposed to an unfunded longer day tried to arrange a meeting with the Mayor to discuss alternate solutions. He ignored repeated meeting requests.
When policymakers ignore research, and an entire group of stakeholders – parents – when creating education policy we all lose.
Let’s hope that we learn some valuable lessons from the longer day debate. As parents, let’s hold these elected officials accountable when these expensive policies fail.
What the longer day will help with is keeping kids off the street, and reducing working parent childcare expenses.
These are the real benefits I heard desired by parents in favor of the longer day. I would have liked an honest conversation about the REAL driver behind the longer day. We could have found better, less expensive and more impactful solutions, such as increased funding for before and after school programs.
Unfortunately, Chicago is only one of two cities in the nation with a school board appointed by the Mayor. But an elected school board is a topic for another time.
Tracy Baldwin lives in Chicago with her husband and three children. She is the co-founder of the education advocacy parent group, 6.5 to Thrive.
What do you think about the length of the school day? Please comment, tweet, share, or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org