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.