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Parent groups: Data for longer school day doesn’t add up

Susan Notes:

Kudos to these parents.
That said, the news doesn't look so rosy. See the Substance coverage. And read about the mayor's pirouette here

by Rosalind Rossi
April 9, 2012

A coalition of 16 parent groups Monday demanded a meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to go over the real research on a 7 1/2-hour school day, and not the "misinformation" they charged district officials with spreading.

"They are either misinformed or deliberately misleading the public," said Jonathan Goldman of the new Chicago Parents for Quality Education coalition.

"In either case, that's not how we should be deciding public policy, especially when it comes to our children."

Goldman said he and other parents have analyzed longer day studies listed on the Chicago Public School website as supporting Emanuel's call for a 7 1/2 hour school day, and they are, at best, "mixed."

In fact, when the Sun-Times called the author of one analysis of 15 studies cited by CPS as proof that longer school days work, Erika Patall of the University of Texas said the evidence the studies cited was "weak" and their conclusions were âvery tentativeâ because "a good deal of the research does not rule out something other than time causing the improvement."

Parents also questioned CPS contentions that the system needed a 7.5 hour school day to get "on par with other districts." CPS officials have said their numbers were based on weekly instructional minutes in a National Center for Education Statistics chart, multiplied out annually.

However, an author of the NCES report told the Sun-Times that the chart was based on weekly teacher minutes, not student minutes, of instruction. Plus, the NCES researcher said, every district counts school days differently, so NCES would never extrapolate student instructional minutes in a year from one weekâs worth of teacher instructional minutes.

"In putting it all together, somebody is making a lot of assumptions," the NCES researcher said of the CPS calculations. "We do not do that at the National Center for Education Statistics."

Members of the Chicago Parents for Quality Education said they want a longer school day than the current 5 3/4 hours in most CPS elementary schools -- and one that includes the art, music and daily physical education missing in many schools -- but they don't want the longest day in the nation.

Asked to respond to charges they were misinterpreting or spinning the data, CPS officials referred the Sun-Times to research summarized by the National Center for Time and Learning that CPS said supports a longer school day. Included there was the research that Patall described as "weak." Schools will have the "autonomy to add the enrichment they need" in a longer day, and the extra time, combined with tougher learning standards and a new teacher evaluation framework, should "improve teaching and learning in every classroom," CPS officials said.

"This is about more than adding time to the school day -- we're strategically investing in initiatives that will ensure that additional time is quality time, and the result is to boost student achievement," CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll said in an email.

Parents Monday delivered a white paper entitled The Best Education, or Just the Longest? to Emanuel's fifth-floor City Hall office and demanded a meeting with the mayor. Their white paper contended that CPS has "seemingly ignored strategies that are backed by research" -- such as early childhood education, reduced class size and individualized tutoring. Parents questioned how CPS could spend the $1,300 per pupil that Massachusetts spent lengthening its school day when CPS is anticipating a $700 million deficit.

Without more funding, said parent coalition member Wendy Katten, CPS' longer day plan amounts to "reform on the cheap."

CPS says it will come up with the money for a longer day by reprioritizing its budget.

Katten said the new parent coalition includes parents from Rogers Park to Beverly, from Logan Square to Lakeview and from Pilsen to Portage Park.

Also Monday, the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign released a new survey indicating that CPS elementary teachers work far more than the 5 3/4 hours in a day listed in their contract.

A survey of 983 CPS teachers with an 8.5 percent response rate indicated CPS teachers are actually at school an average of almost nine hours per day and spend almost two hours more working at home in the evening.

"The length of the school day discussion appears to ignore the reality that teachers are already working a very long day," according to Beyond the Classroom: an Analysis of a Chicago Public School Teacher's Actual Workday.

— Rosalind Rossi
Chicago Sun-Times



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