School & District Management

Chicago Schools Slow to Embrace Longer School Days

Just 13 of 482 elementary schools take the bait
By Julie Rasicot — October 13, 2011 7 min read
Mayor Rahm Emanuel greets a boy on the first day of school at the STEM Magnet Academy in Chicago. The mayor and the district are offering cash incentives to entice schools to lengthen the instructional day.
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An initiative by the Chicago public schools to expand the school day by 90 minutes is off to a slow start, garnering participation from less than 3 percent of eligible elementary schools so far and eliciting cries of unfair labor practices from the local teachers’ union.

Just 13 out of 482 of the district’s elementary schools have agreed to waive collective bargaining rights and accept monetary incentives offered by the district to expand instruction time this school year as part of what it calls the Longer School Day Pioneer Program. Announced on Aug. 23, the pilot program offers a head start for schools on the district’s plan to expand instruction time at all 675 elementary and high schools in the 2012-13 school year.

The early-adoption proposal, led by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard, comes as public school districts nationwide consider alternatives to the traditional school calendar to boost academic performance and school systems wrestle, at the same time, with shrinking budgets.

At one end of the spectrum, districts in California and several other states are cutting the number of days that students spend in school to reduce costs. At the other, schools are looking to imitate the academic success that some charter school ventures, such as the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP, have had by extending the school day, week, or year.

A 2010-11 survey by the Boston-based National Center on Time and Learning shows that at least 1,000 schools nationwide now offer an expanded schedule, with some offering hundreds more hours of instruction each school year beyond the national average of 1,200.

Illustrating Complexity

The Obama administration has also fueled the push for expanded learning time with the Race to the Top and School Improvement Grant programs, both of which offered incentives for schools to provide more instruction time as a way to transform high-poverty, underperforming schools.

But the controversy in Chicago, and a similar flap in Baltimore earlier this year over a pay schedule for teachers working longer hours in some of that city’s charter schools, illustrate how complex and difficult such efforts can be. (“KIPP and Teachers’ Union Go Toe to Toe in Baltimore,” March 16, 2011.)

In the 405,000-student Chicago school system, the expanded-day initiative is driven by the fact that public school students in the nation’s third-largest district spend 15 percent less time in the classroom than the average American public school student, according to school district officials. Public schools nationwide provide an average of 6½ hours of instruction time per school day; Chicago offers about 5½.

The district also struggles with a persistent achievement gap between African-American and Latino students and their white counterparts and a graduation rate below 60 percent.

“The statistics speak for themselves. We could no longer accept the status quo, and one critical tool we can use is to extend the school day,” said Becky Carroll, the district’s chief communications and public-engagement officer. “All we’re actually doing is getting on par with other districts in the country.”

The initiative has drawn praise from education experts who say the longer day, if used properly, can result in improved academic performance. Extended-day proponents say the extra time will become even more critical as districts across the country ramp up professional development and revise learning to implement the common-core standards in mathematics and English/language arts, which are considered more rigorous than the instruction many students receive now. Illinois is one of 46 states to sign on to the standards, an initiative begun by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.

Chicago “has very significant achievement challenges and it’s going to get worse because of the implementation of the common-core standards,” said Jennifer Davis, the co-founder and president of the National Center on Time and Learning. “The mayor and [schools] superintendent in Chicago, in our opinion, are doing the right thing.”

Chicago schools participating in the pilot are required to add 90 minutes to the school day, move lunch to the middle of the day, and add recess, which most city schools don’t offer. Under the new schedule, there is more time for enrichment classes, and teachers have an hour every day to plan.

“Many students had recess for the first time in their lives,” Ms. Carroll said of the pilot schools.

Terms of the Deal

Under the terms of the deal Mayor Emanuel and Mr. Brizard are offering, schools that agreed to expand the school day this fall received an additional $150,000 from the city; those starting in January received $75,000 more. Individual teachers will receive a one-time lump sum payment equivalent to 2 percent of the average annual teacher salary for the district, based on the number of days schools were open longer.

The Chicago Teachers Union opposes the pilot program, calling it a “complete attack” on collective bargaining rights and an attempt to test the union’s strength, according to President Karen Lewis. The American Federation of Teachers affiliate, which says principals and teachers have been pressured into participating in the pilot, is set to negotiate a new contract when the current agreement expires in June.

The Illinois Teachers Federation is supporting its local, accusing the district administration of trying to bust the union, and calling on the district to stop undermining the collective bargaining pact between the district and its teachers.

“Collective bargaining exists to allow teachers’ authorized representation and the administration to reach a compromise that everyone can agree to without fear of reprisal. This consensus is essential to the effective implementation of any major initiative in schools,” Illinois Teachers Federation President Daniel J. Montgomery said in a statement posted on the federation’s website.

In addition to compensation issues, the Chicago union says the district hasn’t devised an effective plan for using the extra time, which experts say is critical for extended-day programs to provide actual benefits to students. The union has issued its own proposal to add 75 minutes to instruction time by restructuring the school day and not requiring teachers to work more.

“There never was a plan. It was just, basically, ‘Let’s keep the kids off the streets,’ ” Ms. Lewis said. “There is no evidence that shows that a longer school day is indicative of success.”

The National Center on Time and Learning Center’s Ms. Davis disagrees. “While there aren’t as many research studies as we wish there were, there is emerging evidence” that a longer day leads to better academic performance, she said.

But Harris Cooper, the chairman of the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University in Durham, N.C., echoed the union’s point about the need for deliberate planning about the best use of additional time.

“Time is a black box,” Mr. Cooper said. “How you fill it is most important.”

“I suspect that 90 minutes added to each day is long enough to lead educators to re-think what should be covered in a school year and in how much depth,” he added.

Doing ‘Both’

Public charter schools for low-income students run by KIPP, which now has schools in 22 states, offer as many as 1,750 instruction hours per year and integrate a longer day with enrichment activities that most public schools’ schedules don’t have time for.

“We talk about a longer day at KIPP as turning ‘or’ to ‘and.’ Instead of having to decide to do math or music, we can do both,” said Steve Mancini, KIPP’s public-affairs director. In Chicago, pilot schools are using resources provided by the National Center on Time and Learning to implement the expanded day, and an advisory committee is helping shape guidelines for next year’s districtwide implementation, according to Ms. Carroll. The pilot schools’ best practices for using the additional time are expected to help other schools expand their days next year.

“No one size fits all,” she said. “In these schools, both the principals and the teachers know where their students are lagging and where they need to add more time. This isn’t a huge mountain to climb.”

The Disney II Magnet Elementary School, located in the Old Irving Park neighborhood of the city, is one of the pilot sites. The school added more instructional time to the school day in late September, allowing students to focus more on math, reading, and writing, and spend between one and two hours daily in enrichment classes, said Principal Bogdana Chkoumbova. Students also have a total of 45 minutes for lunch and recess.

Disney II, which serves prekindergarten through 4th grade, opened in 2008 with a schedule that already extended the school day by one hour four days per week. Ms. Chkoumbova said staff members decided to increase to 90 extra minutes at the start of the school year because structures were in place to make it work.

She said the transition has been seamless and students have adjusted to the expanded day.

“Yes, we understand the day is longer, but you have 45 minutes for lunch and recess and students spend 60 to 120 minutes a day in enrichment activities, things the kids absolutely love,” Ms. Chkoumbova said. “It doesn’t mean simply doing more math and more reading. Ultimately, we see the longer day allowing us to do more with enrichment activities.”

Coverage of leadership, expanded learning time, and arts learning is supported in part by a grant from The Wallace Foundation, at
A version of this article appeared in the October 19, 2011 edition of Education Week as Few Chicago Schools Take Up City’s Offer to Extend School Day


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