So, maybe I was wrong.
Over the last few weeks I have berated the Chicago Public Schools on its short school day. CPS students get the least amount of instruction time of Illinois students. I have called for the Chicago Teachers Union to embrace the need for more instruction time. And I have questioned whether Chicago teachers (specifically CTU President Karen Lewis) cared about their students.
Today’s Chicago Tribune noted CPS’ instruction time is in line with two other suburban school districts—one of those being the school district I was raised in.
Chicago Public Schools instructs its students five hours and eight minutes daily. The front page of today’s Chicago Tribune noted that Glen Ellyn’s School District 89 provides five hours and 15 minutes of instruction time; whereas Elmhurst’s District 205 (my school district) provides five hours and 20 minutes of instruction time.
Egg on face.
Not only on my face, Rahm Emanuel has lashed out at the school district in lagging instruction time; so has the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who called the short school day a “disgrace.”
Although the length of instruction time is similar, I would be willing to bet that on average, a kid who grows up in the Elmhurst public school district is “better educated” at 18 years old than her counterpart in CPS. I put “better educated” in quotes because I’m not certain how it should be measured, but if we were to stack up ACT/SAT test scores, I think the Elmhurst kids would rate better.
Anecdotally, I remember my first year in college—specifically my first semester—and remember being prepared for every concept thrown at me. I had seen everything before in high school. A friend from across the hall in my dorm was a former CPS student and he would admit he was woefully unprepared for college coursework.
Now granted, that is two people in college twenty years ago. But having toured my high school last weekend, I am confident that students in Elmhurst have every advantage in terms of college preparation. But if they are only getting roughly 10 minutes more a day in instruction than CPS students, what gives?
I think arguing money is easy. Generally, districts from wealthy areas have more money to spend per student, which leads to more teachers and more tools to teach each student with. But even if CPS had more resources, it would not necessarily translate into more student success.
Perhaps much of the disparity between CPS and some suburban districts (we should be careful not to lump all suburban districts together) also comes from parental involvement. In general, where there is more parental involvement, children have access to a better education. Today’s article in the Chicago Tribune alluded to increased parental support:
Timothy Knowles, who directs the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago and serves on the city's advisory committee to lengthen the school day, notes that some of Chicago's elite private schools offer less class time to students than they'd get at CPS. The Chicago Latin School, Francis W. Parker School and Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School provide about as much instructional time each day as CPS but have shorter school years, Knowles said.
The difference, Knowles said, is that the vast majority of students at these top-tier schools have parental and community support that ensures they're prepared for school the moment they step on campus.
I think it is safe to say that within a school, if you take two students, one with parents who support their child’s education will do better than the family that does not.
So what should CPS do? Here’s what I said in my August 4, 2011, post discussing the need for both more parental responsibility and Chicago Teacher’s Union accountability, in educating Chicago students, found in its entirety here: http://www.chicagonow.com/your-doubting-thomas/2011/08/why-does-mayor-emanuel-have-to-remind-cps-students-to-attend-the-first-day-of-class-chicago-parents-must-be-more-responsible-for-education/
CPS students need increased instruction. But our students also need increased parental participation. Ultimately, my son’s education is my responsibility. It is my responsibility to know when the first day of school is and make certain my son’s butt is in his seat on that day and every day until June. It is my responsibility to make certain that the television is turned off when it’s time to do homework. It is my responsibility to find my child a school at which he can learn.
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And I understand that many people– especially in today’s job and real estate market– can’t just up and bolt to the suburbs. But sitting on your hands and blaming CPS for your child’s lack of education isn’t the answer. Because after twelve years of complaining about the lack of education but otherwise sitting on your hands, your child leaves high school far behind the great majority of students in the United States.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the Chicago Teachers Union to have a little bit more pride in their product. It is disconcerting for Karen Lewis to be fighting against the opening of more Chicago charter schools rather than fighting for the education of the students that her members teach. People would not be clamoring to get children into charter schools if Ms. Lewis’ teachers were doing a better job.
That said, parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. You can’t send children off to school for less than six hours a day and then suspend the educational process for the other eighteen hours at home. A respect for education and teachers is necessary out of the home. That every August the mayor has to go out and tour neighborhoods and remind parents through the media to send children to school is evidence that Chicago parents should have more respect for their children’s education.
Although there is no easy answer, one thing is clear: parents need to be accountable for their children. Accountability means parental involvement. We are fortunate that there is a dialogue in Chicago about how to best educate our children. In fact, tonight, CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis will be at the UIC Forum at 725 W. Roosevelt at 6:00pm discussing how to better educate our children. Get involved with your child’s education. Be part of the dialogue tonight and moving forward-- and continue the dialogue at school with your child's teacher and at home with your child.