The Longer School Day and Education Reform: What’s Really Going On?

page image
Students, parents, and teachers march to Chicago Mayor’s home
to protest school closures. The government must be held
responsible for providing education. Education must be taken
out of corporate hands. PHOTO/SARAH JANE RHEE
By Lew RosenbaumOn August 23, 2011, Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizzard announced a plan to extend the school day from 6 hours to 7.5 hours. After refusing to go along with the contractually agreed-upon salary increase for teachers, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) then turned around and slapped the teachers with a longer school day. The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) responded that more work time should be accompanied by an increase in pay. They also opposed the change since CPS had no plan for how the extra time would be used.This battle has gone back and forth since August. The current CTU contract expires at the end of this school year, and what the new school day will look like has become the subject of contentious negotiations for the new agreement.

What is the battle around the longer school day all about? CPS says that keeping kids in school longer will improve their test scores. Some parents, grasping at any straw offered, see some possibility of salvation. Others fear releasing their children to the streets. But as Karen Lewis, CTU president, maintained on a Chicago Tonight (WTTV) interview, there is no research that indicates that a longer school day in itself improves education. More time in school does not equal better learning.

Just as important, test scores do not really measure learning anyway. There is no plan in place to introduce funding for art and music teachers, or for more staff to cover recess periods—elements that have been removed as cost-cutting maneuvers. The battle is really not about effective education.

At first the effort was part of a campaign to vilify teachers. CPS launched its attack on teachers with the refusal to grant the pay increase already agreed upon, and then accused the CTU for being greedy. The school day battle followed the same script: The CPS announced it’s plan, the CTU objected, and the CPS characterized the teachers as only interested in money, not in children.

Reality check: CPS public education policy is being decided in the interests of a certain group of wealthy adults, the Commercial Club of Chicago, and that plan has starved public schools of needed resources for almost two decades. It has created a two-tiered public education system, with high performing magnet schools at one end and a mass of so-called failing schools at the other. Whitney Young and Northside Prep, two of the highest performing magnet schools, have circulated a petition to opt out of the longer school day. They know they don’t need that extra time. The city’s scheme to privatize “failing schools” into charter schools has not improved the children’s learning. A longer school day that could mean increased class size and even more test preparation will not improve it either. CPS does not take into account that 80% of the children in public schools qualify for free lunches. The poverty rate, along with class size and prevalence of high stakes testing, limits instructional quality and makes the US rank 24th among 29 industrial countries in educational achievement.

Public education cannot be quick-fixed by increasing the instructional day. The framework of our educational apparatus is stacked against us. The Commercial Club of Chicago has no need to educate most children for the fewer jobs available, even for college graduates. Necessities of life are abundant, but produced without people having jobs. People are being replaced by “smart” electronic technology.

All children in all neighborhoods need an education that will prepare them to understand and act on the fundamental changes our society is undergoing. We must take education out of corporate hands and hold the government responsible for providing these resources. Discussion of a longer day cannot take place outside this context.

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