Thursday, March 29, 2012


a.k.a. if it's this bad in 1st grade, how can I make it through the teen years?

No shrinking violet, The Girl is by turns, spunky, sweet, and incredibly perceptive. The competition she imagines that she has with her brothers is entirely unfounded. Because with her dimples, infectious laugh, and the fact that she generally enjoys the same activities as I do, she's my first choice companion for adventures and outings almost every time. 

But the girl relationship bullshit that begins (I've learned) at age 4 or 4 is the reason that I never wanted to parent a girl child. Tears erupt on the playground after school more often than not, and the list of casual slights, perceived insults, and overheard exclusions grows ever longer by the day. As any grown woman will tell you, there's nothing worse to the average girl than getting dropped like a hot potato by a good friend. Yes, you learn how to cope. Maybe you even end up stronger than you were when you went into it. But it sucks.

And it hurts. As a nearly 7-year-old child, The Girl is ill-equipped to handle it. As a 38-year-old mother, I'm not sure how to handle it, and my own childhood is rife with such incidents. The realist in me can see that Stacie, Susie, Bitsy, Edie, and Amy have vastly different interests than The Girl, who leans toward culturally creative and mathematically gifted pursuits. The Girl, like her parents, prefers comfort over style, has zero interest in becoming a veterinarian, and plays dolls and dress-up only when pressed. She is better suited to develop friendships with girls (and boys) who share her interests. 

But as the title of Mindy Kaling's book alludes, the fear of being left out is very real to many adult women, and our grade-school counterparts are unfortunately afflicted with this as well. After all, as Amy Lynch and Linda Ashford write in their book, How Can You Say That?: "When our daughters are little, we [mothers] get to decide who their friends will be." There is a clique of girls on the playground--and The Girl  is not in it. Are these girls the future alpha moms of their generation? It's possible that the exclusion is not mean-spirited, but to The Girl, it feels deliberate. Write Lynch and Ashford, "Even as they become more independent, [mothers] still have plenty of control over how much time [our school-age daughters] spend with whom." 

This struggle is undoubtedly one of the hardest parts of parenting. Obviously, this is not the path I'd choose for my daughter if I could avoid it. I'd love to see The Girl make friends with the girls (or boys) who better share her natural interests, but I'm not sure that I can really choose who her friends are (and I'm not sure that I should). I wish I could say that I have a neat little conclusion for this story, but at this point, I don't. At this point, all I can do is to encourage her to talk to me, provide her love and comfort, and hope that her voice remains authentic and strong.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

LSC Candidacy

It's unlikely to surprise anyone who follows this blog or knows me well to learn that I've thrown my hat into the Local School Council (LSC) election ring for Disney II this year.  I have no political aspirations (at the moment?), so my seemingly insatiable need to know how things really work is what fueled this decision.

This is a year of firsts for Disney II and for me. As a new school, Disney II has had an Interim Advisory Council (IAC) to serve as a steward of the school through its first four years. But on July 1, 2012, Disney II will have its first elected LSC. Also new is the fact that this is a "contested" election--meaning that there are more candidates than there are parent seats on the council. 

In observing nearly four years of nominations and elections related to Disney II, I can think of only two other times where there were more people interested than there were open positions. For this year's election on April 18, 2012, there are seven parents running for six available slots, and one community member running for one of two open slots. Like many of my peers, the LSC election cycle is completely new to me. Did you know that each parent or community voter can only vote for five total candidates?  

Naturally, I really want to serve on the LSC. I would not have self-nominated if I did not believe that I have the skills--and determination--to make a meaningful contribution to the group and to the school. But we are all great candidates. Two have previous LSC experience. Two have previous IAC experience. Two are architects. Three have previous non-profit experience. Five are men. Two are women. All are parents who are passionate about our children's school.

Yesterday, we had our LSC candidates' forum. Like a Board of Education meeting, candidates were given a grand total of 120 seconds to address "the crowd." In preparing for the forum, I came across some candidates' interviews on the Northcenter Journal; I liked the interview form, so I've mimicked it here. After four years of heavy volunteering, I feel like my name and my face are all over the place, but if you've just stumbled across this blog, there's a chance that you don't know who I am and what I mean to do on the LSC.

I believe the single biggest issue facing Disney II is the physical space of the school. Certainly, a small budget and limited financial resources will affect the quality of education at Disney II, but to me, that's less of an issue than where all these kids will sit once the school reaches full PK-8th capacity in just three years. How can Disney II continue to meet its educational challenges and rigors within the constraints of a small building? Meeting this challenge will be of critical importance to the first elected LSC at Disney II. However, I believe it can be addressed through:
  • Thinking creatively to maximize resources
  • Mapping out another five to ten-year plan to identify needs and resources to address those needs
  • Building and leveraging relationships with CPS, state and local lawmakers, and community stakeholders
And with The Tot (Who's Not)'s K acceptance fresh in my mind, I am reminded once again how fortunate our family is to have three children at the same great magnet school. I want to serve on the LSC because I'm inspired to renew my commitment to this wonderful community. As I mention above, I am deeply interested in how things work, and serving on the LSC allows me to become involved with Disney II and CPS on a systemic level. Finally, like great teachers and great students everywhere, I love to learn. Serving on the LSC will allow me to pursue that goal. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

High School: The New Frontier

Everyone of late seems to be focusing on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA): the first standardized assessment of student achievement across nations. Developed by the OECD, the PISA was introduced in 2003 and is administered every three years. In fact, U.S. high school freshmen and sophomores may be taking it right now. 

In our current educational culture, concern about students’ academic achievement has reached a fever pitch. But immediately on the heels of any mention of American students’ academic performance comes the fear that they are not competitive with (read: better than) those students in other countries. We’ve been concerned specifically about our students’ academic competitiveness with Japanese students since I was in high school. And China has been on our radar for awhile as well. But Finland? I think even Scandinavians are similarly astounded. 

I recently heard that the PISA is administered willy-nilly to American students, whereas other countries test only their “college ready” students. I’m not quite sure how a 15-year-old can be considered wholly ready for college, given that many students begin college at 17-19… But in any case, the OECD denies such sifting in its testing methodology.  

To suggest otherwise seems like a massive case of sour grapes, in my opinion. The reality—that American students are not performing as well as we’d expect—has hit a national nerve. But America’s PISA scores cannot be blamed on test methodology or unit of analysis. Certainly, the scores of the elites—like students at Northside Prep, Jones, Payton, Young, etc.—are going to pull up the scores of the masses to produce a PISA score that hovers in the middle of the pack. Even in Chicago, the elites don’t reach 100 percent exceeding rates, and graduation rates are in fact below 90 percent at three selective enrollment high schools (Brooks, King, Lindblom), according to the latest data available on 

More pressing for the average Chicago parent/child is that admission into the SE high schools is incredibly fierce, with 14,000+ students vying for just 2,000 seats each year. And the number of applicants seems to go up every year. Much has been made about the inadequacies of the current system—but the fact remains that SE high schools are for the elite among the elite. I heard one educator call the practice, “skimming off the cream.” 

To be honest, I am not sure that my kids will be among the elite of the elite. I’m not sure I’d want them to be. They’re smart, they’re curious, and they enjoy the version of elementary learning that they receive at Disney II. But so do thousands of their peers at other good schools across the system. It’s this likely reality that has led me to consider other avenues for my children’s secondary education. And not the kind of avenue that requires a moving truck. Ideally, my kids can attend their local Chicago public high school and build up the knowledge that will help them do well in college and in life.

Our local public high school is Carl Schurz. I believe—and more importantly, Dan Kramer, its principal—believes that it’s an ideal candidate for a community-led or community-supported rebirth. In fact, he launched this effort yesterday through an Arts Showcase, inviting neighbors, community leaders like myself in my role as Disney II PTA president, and local government officials to hear and see Schurz’s performing arts students. Admittedly, I am easily impressed. But I was impressed with the students’ drama scenes, which made me laughed and made me want to cry. I was impressed with the band playing Sousa marches in the library. And I was impressed by the teachers’ interest in and dedication to seeing their students succeed. A 9th grade piano class? The second longest continuously running orchestra in Illinois? Lit classes that cover grammar and liberal thinking? Except for the piano, it sounds a lot like my suburban high school.

Some in my party argued that it was a masterful display of PR that didn’t address major issues* associated with the school. But it left me with the impression that Schurz could be a viable option for my children and their neighborhood peers. I mean, The Boy is in third grade; by my math, that means that I have about 4-5 years to see Schurz thrive. I think JacquelineEdelberg managed to change Nettelhorst’s image among parents in their well-heeled Lakeview neighborhood within the same span of time.

* The most crucial issue at Schurz is about gangs. Aside from the lawsuit against the former principal of Schurz, Mary Ann Folino, I couldn’t find much information online about the problem, but that’s something Dan Kramer and his team are going to have to address.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

School Time

A reader of my PTA Advisory Council post suggested that I naively accept CPS' presentations on the extended day. This may be true. But I love learning new things, so I've spent the last four days reading education research papers and studies, websites, blogs, and articles. I have a list of at least 40 other studies I want to find and read. I daresay I want to take a statistics class so I can better understand raw data sets. But what I found so far in the studies surprised me. Study abstracts on extended school time dismiss its effectiveness summarily, as do those who quote them in the fury breeding throughout the Chicago education discussion. But a deeper dive into the research suggests to me that the issue is (unfairly?) cast as enemy #1 of CPS parents.

I'm pretty sure that Rahm Emmanuel pulled the 7.5-hour day out of a rabbit hole and blamed it on Houston. (Although maybe he got the number from a 1996 case study about a Boston middle school or was just trying to one-up Daley, who suggested year-round schools in 2005?) But the optimist (and it's chronic) in me believes that Jean-Claude Brizard and the powers-that-be at CPS must have read Erika Patall's 2010 synthesis of extended school time research studies. While Arne Duncan may have simply been repeating his boss's concern, I think President Obama likely did some policy work on the matter.

This concern over school time is also nothing new. As Marcotte and Hansen point out in their study, the American concern for time spent in school pre-dates even the 20th century, when school calendars began to shed days like a post-partum mother loses hair. In 1990, The Atlantic Monthly published a lengthy essay written by Michael Barrett, a state legislator in Massachusetts. In it, he made a case for additional school time. Paul Vallas (remember him?) proposed extending the school year in Philadelphia, where he was schools' chief in 2006. 

The opposition to extending the school day or year is also decades old. In her 2007 study, Elena Silva reported that by 1889, American cities' schools had adopted summer holidays in July and August, reducing the nearly year-round school systems' calendars to 250ish days. The elite parents of the day advocated for their children's "need" to take a longer mental break. I wonder who was thinking about the minds of little mill workers?

Indeed, the studies' observations reflect many of today's comments about the full school day. Silva writes, "The strongest opposition to extending the school into the summer or throughout the year comes from middle-class and affluent parents who see no real benefit for their own children for giving up the vacation schedule they have come to expect." 6.5 to Thrive might find allies with Florida's Save Our Summers or Save Alabama Summers. In a 2006 Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, 67 percent of poll respondents said that they'd favor a one-hour extension of the school day. I believe this is consistent with what the Raise Your Hand Coalition found in its survey last year.  

In this journey into education politics and reform, I've met many well-educated, resourceful, and dedicated parents and teachers. I'm often frustrated by the current discussion about school time. I believe it is a distraction from the way we, as parents, can best advocate for all children and influence change in the city and state. Namely: money. Although the longer day and paying for the longer day are intractably linked, I believe that the best way that we can advocate for everyone is to keep asking CPS, City Hall, and Gov. Quinn: who's paying? And how?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On carseats and babyhood

Have you ever had a disconnect between instinct and research? Assuming you had the power to make the decision, how did you handle the dilemma or issue?

The upside of living in 2012 is that there's a world of research, reporting, information (and yes, opinion) immediately at our fingertips. As parents, we know so much more than our parents did. In 1974, you bought Dr. Spock (or you didn't) and that was it. Now the self-help parenting world is packed full of books, essays, websites, and philosophies on parenting and other elements of child-rearing. The downside of all this information, of course, is negotiating with yourself when your instinct or inclination flies in the face of expert research.

I'm feeling torn between the research and the reality myself. The Tot (Who's Not) wants to sit in a high-backed booster seat in the car. He currently sits in a 5-point harness seat (Sunshine Kids' Radian 65), but his older siblings both sit in boosters, as do the vast majority of his preschool-aged friends, all children of type-A, educated, research-oriented mothers. But the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) is unequivocal on this point: a harnessed seat is the safest place for a child to ride in a car until said child maxes out the height or weight limits of the seat.

The Tot (Who's Not) turns 5 next month, a milestone age for most children. At 5, a child may still be regarded as "young," but he is no longer a baby or a toddler. And the finality of that makes me nostalgic for my children's infancy. Downy heads, milky smiles, and early cooing are long past for me. The Tot (Who's Not) would tell you that he is not "little." I remember The Boy, at age 5, correcting a fellow mother in the Chicago Children's Museum when she referred to him as "a little boy" to her own children.

And so the debate I currently have with myself is whether to keep The Tot (Who's Not) in a harnessed seat because it's safer than a booster seat, or to join the majority of my peers and friends by moving him to a high-back booster seat within The Great White Moose. That he asks me if I can buy him a booster seat every time we are in the car is part of it. It's tiresome to explain to him at least four times a day that it's safer for him to be in a harnessed seat, this his siblings did not go into HBBs until they were 7 (The Boy) and 6 (The Girl), and that the difference between him and his friends whose "birthdays are after mine" is 10-20 pounds. I know, I know. Having to answer a child's same question repeatedly is tiresome. It's also an unavoidable part of parenting.

Part of me thinks that the move to a HBB is just another step toward growing up. After all, I have no desire to encapsulate my children in a bubble until they are 18. Although they are only almost-5, almost-7, and 9, I spend part of each day prepping my children to become productive, self-sufficient adults. There is definitely a degree of measuring risk and taking action involved in parenting, as in life. But although it doesn't seem like it, getting in a car that moves every day is much riskier than letting your children walk to the city park by themselves. That is the expert research that is tripping me up in keeping The Tot (Who's Not) in a harnessed seat until he's in 2nd grade.

What do you think?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Varied Interests

After walking The Boy, The Girl, and The Tot (Who's Not) to school this morning, I returned home to find this comment, a response by Handmaiden to the Lord, to this post in my email box: "Well unlike you, I LOVE being a stay at home mom. Unlike you, I don't need a babysitter for my kids.... I LOVE my children."

In my head, I was both amused by the assumptions in her comment, and defensive of these attempted negative assignations to my character as a mother.

But then I got mad. The kind of anger fueled by a profound sadness at the way women continue to be cast as the lesser sex--by men, but also by ourselves. I find my own words inadequate, but Emily Hauser, who wrote recently about the GOP, captured my sense of frustration perfectly: "There is a purely incandescent rage that comes over me now on a nearly daily basis over the blatant dehumanization of women that is currently sweeping the nation."

It's not just the notion that behaving a certain way or having interests outside of motherhood makes me an inadequate mother in the eyes of readers, but that even talking about our struggles is not allowed. When The Dad became a father, he wasn't expected to give up his job, interests, or hobbies because he became a father. That's different, you say. Fathers are wired differently. First, hog-wash. And second, I'm not buying that. I don't believe for a second that blogging about the struggle I have with work, home, children, and daily life in any way indicates that I want to cast off my children, or that I don't enjoy motherhood, or that I don't love them and enjoy them as little people in their own right. 

Forgive me another Mad Men reference, but office stick-in-the-mud Peggy Olson summed it up best when she said, at the end of last season: "I signed the first new business since Lucky Strike left...but it's not as important as getting married."

This is not about men subjugating women, although that certainly happens a lot on Mad Men and within the GOP. But what Handmaiden's comment is really about is women subjugating women. 

Ask any one of my children who last bought them shoes, took them to school, prepared any meal, took them to a birthday party, bought a present, went to the grocery store, washed and folded their clothes, baked cookies or helps them with their homework most of the time and the answer is the same: Mama. Some of these tasks I enjoy, others I do not.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

PTA Advisory Council: The Theory of Change

The theme among winners’ comments at the Alfred Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway is one of tolerance and keeping an open mind—especially when dealing with one’s enemies. The idea that we must embrace the differences of our foes is a difficult one for me to grasp.

And yet, it’s an important lesson—one that can ease the way for me (and others) in many situations. I’d urge my fellow parents to keep it in mind when reading or talking about the longest day debate played out in the papers, blogs, Facebook, message boards and on the playground.

Part of the problem, in my opinion, is the absence of balanced reporting. I think the Raise Your Hand Coalition is trying, but first, despite their numerous press mentions, they’re not the media. Second, they are only one voice—or more accurately, one set of voices—in the storm that is CPS education policy.

And so, when community meetings are held, there are a fair number of people who walk into the room with a closed mind, itching for a fight. I’ve seen it in West Garfield Park, and I saw it yesterday during the PTA Advisory Council’s monthly meeting. Moderated by Carl Hurdlik, a CPS employee, and Cassandra Eddings, a PTA member, parent, and volunteer, the PTA advisory council was the brain child of the late Betty Durbin, a longtime PTA champion with a significant legacy at Carl Schurz High School. As an aside, I’m often asked what PTA does. This is one of the things it does. Although it was set up for PTAs, the group is welcoming to representatives from PTOs, Friends-of groups, and LSCs from CPS schools throughout the city.

Carl and Cassandra had invited Monica Lee, Directory of New Initiatives at CPS, to speak about the changes coming to CPS next year. When she first started to speak, it hit me that the Longer Day could be a classic case of a politician reading a brief and misspeaking. Thus inadvertently creating a sound bite that doesn’t convey the whole picture, but ignites hysteria as it is reported by the media and picked up by concerned Chicago parents, to the detriment of the initiative. I know this is the optimist view, but read my review of Ms. Lee’s presentation before you snap to judge.

Ms. Lee, a former math teacher, tried to convey to the concerned group of parents in the room is that the longer day is just one piece in a three-pronged approach by CPS to improve student outcomes.

While most of us in the room had children in high-achieving schools—Skinner North, Farnsworth, Blaine, Burr, Alcott, Lenart, Inter-American, Northside Prep, and Disney II—the district-wide lack of achievement relayed by Ms. Lee was shocking:

  • only 7.9 percent of 11th graders score at the minimum ACT level (or higher) to succeed in college. How many CPS high school students aspire to attend college? I’m pretty sure that it’s more than 7.9 percent
  • only 17 percent of 3rd graders read at grade level. 3rd grade literacy is a marker of college-readiness down the line

Clearly, CPS is failing our kids academically. Sure, not everyone wants to go to college. Not everyone should go to college. But the second largest school system in the country should prepare more than 8 percent of its total population to attend college, no? 

And so it was, Ms. Lee said, that CPS decided to study the problems and come up with a reasonable solution for their amelioration. Ms. Lee told the group that the imitative seeks to do three things. It’s not enough to lengthen the school day, as so many parents have pointed out. (In fact, in her presentation, this was the last point that Ms. Lee made.) It’s not enough to change what is taught through implementation of the Common Core. And it’s not enough to change how teachers teach. The initiative is the confluence of these areas to create more college-ready students.

Ms. Lee told the group that the elements look something like this:
  • Common Core is a change in what is taught from rote memorization (10 ÷2 = 5) to teaching students to understand conceptually what division is.

  • Instructional Framework gives teachers models of what good teaching looks like and how they can measure their success against it, and gives them professional development tools to tweak their methods for success.
  • Full School Day gives them time to understand, implement and tweak both the Common Core and the Instructional Framework. It gives time for students to catch up, but it also gives time for students to excel. The longer day also gives time for schools to offer “a richer array of academic, social and behavioral supports” and more time for “a broader set of subjects” –science and social studies as a mandate, and art, music, language if the school desires.

Then Ms. Lee went over how CPS plans to implement these changes. At this point, all the work is being done at the network and/or principal level, leaving parents mostly in the dark about what this is all going to look like. First, she said, the network chiefs had a lot of discussions about what’s best for every type of student. They conveyed this to principals, who then submitted a draft plan for next year. The draft plan’s goals reflect what parents, teachers and data say, and the schedule is to meet the parameters set by CPS. The draft plan also allows the network chiefs to flag facilities and other problems, Ms. Lee said.

The budget is still unknown because principals reported that incomplete data would be unhelpful. The district-wide budget will be presented at the March Board of Education meeting, following CPS’ typical schedule for these things, per Ms. Lee. The budgets will go to schools in March or early April, and final budgets will be due in May with the Continuous Improvement Work Plan, the replacement to the SIPAAA.

Someone in the room asked how CPS came up with a 7.5-hour day. Ms. Lee’s answer kind of surprised me. She said that CPS worked with Common Core experts, and focus principal groups, and from a content perspective to determine the ideal instructional time. For elementary school, that was 6.5 hours. The extra hour allows for lunch, recess, and bathroom breaks. As children and their parents know, there is a lot of waiting involved in group activities. For high school students, it wasn’t a huge increase over current instructional time: 6 hours and 8 minutes, adding 46 minutes to each high school day within CPS for lunch and passing time.

This is about the time than I began channeling Nobel Peace Center quotes. The Northside Prep parents were angry about the change: how were their kids going to continue their colloquium, their sports, and their extracurricular activities? I’m a non-athlete who grew up in a family full of intellectuals so this is a really difficult point for me to see. I also don’t have a teenager. Given that, I am going to bow out of any judgment on what high school should look like.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Longest Day: A Rebuttal

I’m a huge fan of Mad Men. Although I’ve never had any real desire to work in an agency, and I pride myself on my contrarian nature as regards to marketing, I have to hand it to Matthew Weiner and his writers. I have a feeling that Rahm Emmanuel is a fan as well. After all, he’s done such a brilliant job of changing the conversation in Chicago education politics away from the inarguable (lack of funding) to the arguable (length of the day). If you don’t like what they are saying, change the conversation.

Bravo, Mr. Emmanuel!

My perspective is completely different. My children attend a school that is utterly unlike 99 percent of the elementary schools in the Chicago Public Schools’ portfolio. I’m not sure why that is – after all, parents at Disney II are no more involved and their children no smarter than the populations of many other schools, including those behind the 6.5 to Thrive movement: Burley, Blaine, Coonley, Bell, Mt. Greenwood, Drummond, Inter-American, and others. Disney II is a magnet school, so it’s got a wee funding advantage, but no more so than most of the schools listed above. Nor is it any better funded than my neighborhood school, John B. Murphy, whose 85 percent free and reduced lunch population (not to mention a fully populated school of PK-8), gives it a funding bump that is not replicated at Disney II.

As a parent of children who have attended a school that has had the longest school day within CPS since its inception in September 2008, I’d like to address some of the arguments I’ve heard and seen about the longer/full school day:

Advocate what is best for your child.

This seems like a no-brainer advice for a generation of parents on the heels of those who regularly call up their adult children’s bosses to advocate on their behalf. But at the same time, I question the wisdom of basing the second largest school system on the welfare of a few. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, but should it in a system that serves not only the children of tax-paying and resourceful citizens, but also those children whose parents are too busy or too distracted to decipher the messages coming from both CPS and its critics? There’s a very good reason that businesspeople have historically not been in charge of public services.  

6.5-hour CPS schools outperform 7.5-hour charter schools.

Although CPS likes to tell the story that charter schools are part of a public school portfolio, charter schools are not, in fact, the same thing as public schools. Do these 6.5-hour schools have the same populations as 7.5-hour charters? And how did 6.5 to Thrive reach this conclusion?

6.5-hour schools outperform 5.75-hour schools.

Pick an argument here. The idea that 6.5-hour schools outperform 5.75-hour schools within the same portfolio begs the question: Is it because of the extra time or in spite of it? What accounts for the difference between the performances of children in these schools? More resources? More highly involved parents? Smarter kids?

As 6.5 to Thrive states, kids at these schools get recess and extracurricular activities, not simply more time to plug away at math and literacy. Maybe its poor reasoning skills, but I don’t understand this argument. First, neither a 6.5-hour day nor a 7.5-hour day has been proven (by anything but anecdotal evidence) within CPS. The vast majority of CPS schools provide just 5.75 hours of instruction (whether they are open campus with a recess or not). Second, if a 6.5-hour day is better, a 7.5-hour day must be an improvement, no? If some is good, more must make it better. If that is true, why isn't 6.5 pushing for a longer day?

There’s no scientific data about a 7.5-hour day.

That’s the thing about being a pioneer: no one comes before you and there’s no way to measure to your success. It’s kind of a leap of faith. It seems strange to me that a group of parents are willing to take the leap by putting their kids into the system in the first place, yet unwilling to trust that the educators who both administer and teach in the system have all of our children’s best interests at heart and top of mind.

I’m not discounting the possibility that the longer day could be yet another failed experiment in the failures of the district. But is it at all possible that the Chicago could be in the verge of greatness in moving to this model? Could a 7.5-hour day be used to address achievement gaps in those who lack early childhood education, a parent available for homework after school, an hour not spent on the street deflecting rocks?

Kids need a school-life balance and the AAP recommends unstructured play time.

As anyone following politics in the last century knows, cherry-picking data is nothing new. Apparently, it’s also not limited to CPS. What the AAP actually said is that unstructured playtime is more valuable for young children than screen time. The research was published in a November 2011 report about toddlers. The same report also recommended that “young children learn best from—and need—interaction with humans.” And in its 2006 study on children’s activities, the AAP suggested that it’s parents who over-schedule their children. I feel compelled to note that the AAP deals with children’s medicine, not children’s education.

A longer school day doesn’t mean a better quality school day.

Finally: a valid point. But this is where we should, as parents, focus our energies. Although it’s slow in coming, I think CPS is going to put real meaning around what, exactly, a longer, high-quality school day looks like. My feeling is that the longer day is coming, whether we like it or not, and we’d do better to focus our efforts on how we can shape that day and, most importantly, how CPS plans to fund it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Schools That Work

I'm on a post-auction high. Successfully planning an event where everyone has a good time makes me happy. But what makes me a little misty-eyed was the successful teamwork among parents, teachers and administrators that made the event work. It's no small thing to have a CPS school that works. And I feel so fortunate and grateful that my kids are taught and cared for by these amazing people every weekday.

Much has been made of late about CPS's refusal to engage parents in the education policy-setting process. As Jill Wohl of Raise Your Hand has pointed out, one way to better force CPS as an institution to listen to us parents (both individually and as an institution) is to vote in the upcoming Local School Council elections on April 18-19, 2012. Or, even better, run for one of the 6 seats available for parent representatives at each school. Applications are due March 8, 2012 March 23, 2012. Even if you're on the fence, it's just a short personal statement and a bit of box-checking. (Seriously, job applications require more writing).

Another way that parents can be a part of the process, in my opinion, is to have--or work to create--a great partnership with your school's administration and teachers. This partnership (or more accurately, a trifecta among parents, teachers and students) is what makes some CPS schools stand out within the second largest school district in the United States. Indeed, the parents behind the 6.5 to Thrive movement (more on that in a bit) almost invariably come from schools with a very active parent population. I'd bet that Northside Prep is the #1 high school I the sate of Illinois not because the kids are the intellectual cream of Chicago's academic crop (although that certainly helps), but because their parents have taken an active and supportive role in their education and schools since Y2K.

It's not surprising to me that your average mother of a 3-year-old on the Northside can rattle off a list of great schools within the district, but cannot name even a single school on CPS's turnaround list. It ultimately comes down to resources: parents at these "name" schools are active, stay current and have the means and the know-how (aka resources) to the CPS powers that be. How does that happen? I'd like to think its not because we're well-spoken, tax-paying adults with an affinity for Northface puffer jackets and Starbucks nonfat lattes, but because we've formed strong ties to our school communities, and have developed a critical level of trust with our school-based cohorts. A strong parent-school community is good for the parents, but it's also good for the kids. As Ted Ganchiff pointed out in Nettelhorst's one-day symposium in June 2010, the days when you sent your kids off to school in K and didn't think about school again until the college boards ended when, well, they stopped calling them the college boards.