Chicago struggles with longer school day

Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the nation — five hours, 45 minutes — until fall of 2012, writes Sara Neufeld in The Atlantic. Mayor Rahm Emanuel added an extra hour and 15 minutes at elementary schools, an extra 30 minutes at high schools. (The school year is 10 days longer too.) However, extra time may not mean extra learning, writes Neufeld.

Chicago Public Schools’ deficit, caused largely by a crisis in pension funding, is estimated at $1 billion. CPS’ 400,000 students have more time to learn, but fewer teachers and support staff.  

“Funding is not there for a quality day, period, no matter the length,” said Wendy Katten, director of the advocacy group Raise Your Hand and mother of a fifth grader at Augustus H. Burley School.

The city initially hired hundreds of new teachers to help with the expanded schedule, since it could not afford to pay existing teachers to work longer hours. But now officials have eliminated more jobs than they created. At some schools, newly added art and music classes have been cut back, and the mandatory reintroduction of recess without funding for supervision has created a logistical nightmare.

In violence-ridden communities,”a later end to the regular academic day has left families worried about their kids getting home safely after dark if they stay to participate in after-school programs and sports.”

During his freshman and sophomore years, back when school let out at 2:31 p.m., Raul Arias played basketball and ran cross-country at the Marine Math and Science Academy. “I stopped last year as soon as the whole extended school day started,” said Arias, 17, a senior. He commutes an hour each way on public transportation to attend the military-themed magnet school instead of a subpar option in his neighborhood. “I have to worry more about myself going home than what I’ll actually be doing in school.”

In the 1970s, Chicago Public Schools cut short the school day to make sure students got home before dark, writes Neufeld.

The September 2012 teachers’ strike, “spurred partly by the fact that teachers were being asked to work more without a proportionate pay increase,” closed schools for seven days, writes Neufeld. A deal was struck: Elementary teachers work more hours, but get a longer break for lunch and planning. Students also get more time for lunch. 

Theodore Roosevelt High added five minutes to each class period to use the extra 30 minutes. It doesn’t help, says Tim Meegan, a board-certified social studies teacher. “There’s no way anyone can tell me kids are learning more because they’re in school longer.”

Second graders at Patrick Henry Elementary School follow along to an exercise video during indoor recess. (Armando L. Sanchez / Hechinger Report)

High-performing charters typically have a much longer school day and year, writes Matt Di Carlo. District schools that want to extend the day should consider that a little extra time may not be enough.

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