Chicago: Failing at longer school days

More time in school should give more education. Frustrated teachers say that’s not what happened when Chicago lengthened its shortest-in-the-nation school day in 2012. The longer day came from requiring students to show up at the same time as their teachers, which sounds great, but eliminated time that teachers used for preparation and for collaboration with colleagues.

Chicago promised, in 2012, to hire more art and music teachers and to give elementary students more time for recess. That sort of worked in 2012, but then the district reneged on promises. Two Hechinger Report articles by Sara Neufeld paint a picture of how not to implement longer school days: A longer school day in Chicago, but with what missing? and More time in school, with a drain on Chicago’s teachers. According to Neufeld:

“The city initially hired hundreds of new teachers to help with the expanded schedule, since it could not afford to pay existing teachers to work longer hours. But now it has eliminated more jobs than it created. At some schools, newly added art and music classes have been cut back, and the mandatory reintroduction of recess without funding for supervision has created a logistical nightmare.”

The city promised 762 new teachers in 2012, and actually hired 511, mostly in art, music and physical education. Then came budget cuts in 2013:

“This year, 1,413 teaching positions –– 6.5 percent of all those in the city –– were cut. So were 1,927 school support positions, nearly 15 percent of all the clerks, aides and others who help make teachers and administrators’ jobs manageable.”

According to Neufeld, the district announced this week that it will hire additional teachers — 84 art teachers and 84 physical education teachers. Let’s see: that’s 762 promised new hires, but 511 hired. Do the math: 511 hired – 1413 cut + 168 promised hired = still coming up way short of what’s needed.

Class sizes in some schools are mind-boggling. Neufeld reports interviewed a librarian at Ray Elementary, who questioned how increased time could help:

“We had 43 children in each of our kindergarten classes, with one teacher and no aide,” she said. “The idea that we were going to have [more] kindergarten time with 43 bodies in one room and the one teacher, it just made your mouth hang open.”

So — longer days, bigger classes, and less support. Some schools and students are showing improving test scores. How do they do it? A teacher at Patrick Henry Elementary, where the district pointed Neufeld for interviews, gave a partial answer:

“While the day starts at 8:15 a.m. and dismisses at 3:15 p.m., she said she typically arrives at 6:45 in the morning and stays until 7:30 at night. ‘It’s an immense labor of love,’ said Nunn, 28, who estimates that she spends $20 a week of her own money on classroom supplies, less than she used to since she’s accumulated materials.”

That’s a successful teacher in a successful school. Like many teachers, she puts her students first. That’s great for her students, and Nunn’s account recalls Catholic nuns of earlier eras who dedicated their entire lives to teaching. But is it realistic or fair or even desirable to make teachers give up family and leisure and lives outside their work?

In a familiar refrain, Neufeld said the district wouldn’t allow her to visit a school near Patrick Henry that has had deeper budget cuts. Chicago, like too many other districts, apparently tries to manage the news by muzzling the teachers.

The verdict is still out on whether student test scores are improving or not — and that’s all that really matters, right? Verifiable results so far: longer hours, fewer teachers and support staff, and massive frustration. The Hechinger Report articles portray a textbook model of how not to implement longer school days.

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