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.


Mayfair Dad said...

Yes, Caroline, you hit the nail on the head. This is the most cogent essay I have read on this issue.

handmaiden of the Lord said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Leap of faith, maybe, experiment yes! It may be something you are willing to do with your children as a "pioneer parent" but I am not willing to do that with my own. CPS' track record at experimentation isn't so wonderful and yes, I understand that you have to break a few eggs in order to make an omelet. My neighorhood has worked diligently for our children's education and as a parent with her children in a "regular" community school (no magnet here) that performs well, I say let the COMMUNITY choose what is best for THEIR children. Why, I ask, is CPS so unwilling to listen to us, is it because they are afraid that we may have the key to their little puzzle?

handmaiden of the Lord said...

I want my kids home after school for them to be well rounded and have after school activities.

As for unscientific 7.5, unlike you I don't want my kid to be a guinea pig! I want what is working. Actually at my kids school~the 5.75 day is working, straight A students! But I can see how being on par w/IL avg of 6.5 might be beneficial. As you stated yourself, 7.5 might not be good, too much of anything isn't good. I wonder if this is a way for Rahm to fix the budget, crime and keep kids off the street~bc he doesn't have a handle on crime.

What abt next year~when the money is gone that was given Disney? CPS already said that is not funding the day? Then what?

I'm informed and educated! I don't want Stand For Children involved in my children's school. As for charters, they rob neighborhood schools of money and their record is so poor~nothing compared to our neighborhood school. Every charter is on academic probation.

I LOVE my children and want them home at a reasonable hour. Our family dinner each night is one of the most important parts of all of our days.

Anonymous said...

But why 7.5 hours? And why no funding for student services?

The average school day in the U.S. is 6.64 hours, in Illinois it is 6.5 hours. The top 10-suburban elementary neighborhood schools have a 6.5-hour day and a 175-day year. It includes necessities: lunch, recess, passing time and special classes. (Oct. 2011 Sun Times)

There may be different opinions on the exact right length, but no school district in the US has a 7.5 hour day. And no state that has signed on to the Common Core standards (and 45 of them have) has increased its school day to 7.5 hours.

Here's a synthesis of 20 years of research on extended learning time; the same issues were raised then.

"A study by the Carnegie Corporation has indicated that students spend just under one-third of their time in school, and that they face the greatest risks and opportunities during their discretionary time.

Opponents of extended day / year programs recognize the non-instructional reasons that might make longer time in school more attractive, particularly for urban communities where many disadvantaged students reside; nevertheless, they cite the bulk of research suggesting that increased time in school does not lead to greater academic achievement.

For example, in a comprehensive review of 20 years of research literature prepared by Worthen and Zstray (1994), little evidence was found to support the link between time in school and student achievement.

Opponents of such programs also note the financial problems associated with increased schooling time.

The crucial issue is how time is used, with quality of instruction being the key."

The funding issue is key to the success of a longer day.

In Philadelphia, the district got a $55 million SIG federal grant to extend the day at nine persistently low-performing high schools because the students needed a lot of support services to improve achievement. The money also allows for an optional half-day of classes every other Saturday.

Philly did not try to impose a blanket solution, with no funding on all its schools. It has left alone the schools that don't require extra services in this time of a severe economic downturn, and focused on the most deserving schools.

The same is true in Houston, Detroit and Massachusetts.

Source: Extended School Day / Year Programs: A Research Synthesis by William Evans and David Bechtel from the Laboratory for Student Success, Philadelphia, PA., US Dept of Ed, ERIC
Tel: 800-892-5550

Anonymous said...

Caroline Bilicki, president of the PTA at Disney II Magnet Elementary, said her school should be a model for Chicago's system-wide effort to move to a longer day.

"They don't teach to the test ...They get music two times a week for an hour. They get art two times a week for an hour. They get technology...."

Disney II's longer day - and added staff to teach all the extras - is paid for by parent fundraising. But there were concerns the North Side magnet school isn't typical of schools in the system.

So Caroline you feel it is ok for CPS to push through legislation for a day that they can afford???
Not all parents can fundraise for teacher positions - and THEY SHOULDN'T HAVE TO!!! Thats why we pay taxes - we fund raise at our school just to provide copy paper and machines. CPS needs to do better with what they have and not add to parents plates to volunteer or fundraise for their exploits and experiments with children.

Do your research and you will find there is no data to support that a longer day will increase test scores.

I'm glad this seems to work for you and your family, but don't push your crap onto the rest of us who would like a voice in our child's education. We deserve to be given facts and looked at as partners in the education of our children. Shame on you for downplaying parental rights!

Caroline Pollock Bilicki said...

To Anon #3: Please go back and read the comments on Linda Lutton's WBEZ post that you quoted. Disney II parents did NOT fundraise for teacher positions on the longer day: http://www.wbez.org/story/parents-want-their-say-debate-over-longer-school-day-93484

Anonymous said...

"Parent fundraising paid for just 1/2 of a position this year. However, as Sonia Kwon of Raise Your Hand said at the hearing, many North Side schools -- like Coonley, where her children attend -- do use parent fundraising to expand their curriculum and ancillary programs." Those are YOUR words! Whether a full position or half YOUR FUNDRAISING PAID for it!

Caroline Pollock Bilicki said...

Anon #3:

I agree with you. It’s ridiculous that schools often fundraise to support their schools through an extra aide, ½ a teacher position, etc. I’m curious to know if parents who want a 6.5 hour day do any fundraising (for positions or otherwise) for their children’s schools?

I am pretty sure that I have a voice in my children’s education, even if that voice is saying something different than you would have me say: http://littleshoulders.blogspot.com/2012/03/schools-that-work.html