This week, the Chicago Teachers Union countered the push from Rahm Emanuel and Jean Claude-Brizard for Chicago public elementary schools to extend their school day this academic year. Meanwhile, students at six schools are wrapping up their second week of a longer school day and others prepare to start the program on Monday.
This week, the Chicago Teachers Union countered the push from Rahm Emanuel and Jean Claude-Brizard, chief education officer of Chicago Public Schools, for CPS elementary schools to extend their school day this academic year. CTU President Karen Lewis met with a majority of the City Council, and the number of elementary schools signing waivers to extend their school day stayed stuck at 13.
It might appear, then, that the urgency of the dispute between Emanuel and CTU has died down: These thirteen schools will implement their day and CPS and CTU will start to hash out a citywide plan to extend the day in the 2012-13 school year.
An unfair labor practice complaint filed by CTU, though, could yet undo the Longer School Day Pioneer Program.
Thirty-three aldermen, or their reps, received a 26-slide PowerPoint presentation from Lewis Monday on a range of issues, including the longer school day and ideas about balancing the CPS budget.
The specificity of the teachers union's policy proposals elicited a mostly positive response from aldermen, who, generally, have been passively supportive of Emanuel’s education policies. On September 8 the council voted 38-0 on a purely symbolic resolution to lengthen the school day and Emanuel had told aldermen “to burn the phone lines” in order to get schools onboard with implementing the pioneer program.
“It is very important that CTU has an agenda and they can explain it to policymakers and the media,” says Ald. Will Burns (4th) who was briefed by Lewis.
“They are in favor of having a longer school day and just want to ensure it’s done properly,” says Ald. John Pope (10th), who was also briefed. “They oppose the current [pioneer] program, because it’s rushed.”
CTU has proposed adding 90 minutes to the current 5-hour, 45-minute day – similar to the 100 minutes schools are adding in the CPS pilot program. Lewis wants 65 of the minutes spent on instructional time and 25 minutes on recess.
More controversial, Lewis wants to see less time than currently spent on standardized testing: CTU contends that twenty percent of class time is now spent on taking or preparing for standardized tests.
The teachers union also suggested that perhaps the biggest way to reduce CPS’s sprawling budget deficit is to reroute $350 million in unused Tax Increment Finance property tax money to CPS. This is an idea whose contours have actually been taken up in an ordinance proposed this week by Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd).
For CTU, the City Council briefings “went exceptionally well,” according to spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin. She says CTU will next try to schedule meetings with members of the Illinois General Assembly.
Gadlin points out that amid all the initial hubbub of schools going along with the pioneer program, 470 of 483 elementary schools have not applied for a waiver to the collective bargaining agreement to implement a longer day.
Gadlin adds that staff at 115 schools voted against the proposal – an assertion that CPS disputes, claiming that there were only four documented rejections.
According to Gadlin, CTU attorneys requested that the 115 schools not be named because they were collected as part of the unfair labor practice complaint the union filed with the Illinois Education Labor Relations Board. The board is expected to hear the wide-ranging complaint in the coming month and – if the board were completely to side with CTU – the pioneer program would end.
Of the thirteen schools that have voted for a longer day, six are in the second week of their program and three more will implement it next week.
Disney Magnet Elementary School, located at 3815 N. Kedvale Ave., implemented their longer day last week and a handful of parents interviewed as school let out there on Thursday spoke well of the change.
“It’s been a seamless transition as far as I can tell,” says Lauren Hofing, who has a kindergartner at the school. “They are getting gym classes four days a week instead of two so they’re getting some exercise and not sitting at their desk all the time.
“I thought the kids would get tired, but they have done it in a good way,” says Anna Peric, who has a second and fifth grader in the school. “They have longer music, longer art and longer lunch, which they love because they can now eat everything slowly.”
UPDATED (10/7/11 - 3:30 p.m.): In response to Brizard's letter from last week inviting the CTU to choose the next 25 schools that take part in the Pioneer Program, Lewis sent the CPS CEO a letter inviting him to a discussion on the longer school day issue at the union's headquarters next Tuesday at 1 p.m. Brizard has agreed to the meeting, but suggested that they instead meet at a school where a longer school day is already in effect. It is unclear as to whether they will meet as there is an apparent problem in deciding where to meet.