Some Chicago Schools Approving Longer Days

Long known for having one of the shortest school days in the United States, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) may finally be able to shed that image. Or at least some schools in that district will be able to: as of September 2011, 13 CPS institutions have voted to provide 90 minutes of additional instructional time each day. But despite the academic benefits, does this move sit well with everyone involved?

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Longer Days Long Overdue?

By most accounts, kids certainly benefit from more time spent in school. In 2008, for example, schools in Massachusetts that added about two hours to the day made faster improvements than other schools in the state. And within the schools themselves? Marked increases as compared to the previous four years without the extra instruction time were observed in math (up 44%), English language arts (39%) and science (19%).

Getting CPS to incorporate longer school days has long been a goal of past administrators, including former CPS chairman and current U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan, who headed CPS from 2001 until his appointment as Secretary of Education in 2009, has called his inability to institute longer school days in the CPS system during his tenure as CEO a 'big regret.'

So why is the change coming now? According to the Chicago Sun-Times it seems due to the tactics used by the Chicago Board of Education and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who are offering a monetary incentive to teachers to vote for the longer day. This incentive has come in the form of a bonus equaling about two percent of a teacher's annual salary.

Schools, too, will reap the benefits: up to $150,000 in discretionary funds are awarded to those schools adding the extra 90 minutes to each day. And it seems to be working: in addition to the six schools that began the longer daily schedule at the start of the new academic year, seven others have voted to lengthen their school day beginning in January.

Union Outcry

One organization that is not happy about the favorable votes for longer school days is the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). An outspoken opponent of the immediate adoption of the longer day (the union does not oppose longer days themselves and is only calling for more time to adequately plan such a change), CTU has accused CPS and Mayor Emanuel of 'emotional blackmail', bribery and coercion in getting the schools to vote in their favor.

After Skinner North Elementary and Genevieve Melody Elementary schools voted to increase their days shortly before Labor Day weekend, CTU issued a statement that read, in part: 'What the CPS has done is to pressure employees at two schools to agree to longer work. They don't know anything about the curriculum. They don't know how much they'll be paid. They don't know what is being offered to our students. This is taking advantage of teachers who care about our children.'

CTU has gone on to say that fair labor practices and the collective bargaining agreement with CPS have been violated. The union filed an unfair labor lawsuit against the Board of Education in early September. Such a move has not been popular with proponents of the longer school day.

Alderman Ed Burke spoke out harshly against the union's decision, telling the Chicago Sun-Times: 'I'm starting to get embarrassed at the attitude of some leaders of organized labor. They seem to be obstructing the end goal that so many people agree needs to happen.'

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