Chicago Schools To Extend Length of School Day

Many children in the Chicago Public Schools system have grown accustomed to having one of the shortest school days in the nation, clocking in at a hasty 5 hours and 45 minutes. This is the shortest of the nation’s 50 largest districts according to the National Council on Teacher Quality, bucking a national average of 6.7 hours per day. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to extend the day of elementary schools in the city to seven hours and high schools to seven and a half hours. This mirrors a current political trend for longer school hours and fewer vacations backed by President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

“More districts are now looking to break free of the standard school schedule because there are too many students who are not reaching higher academic standards,” said Jennifer Davis, president of the National Center on Time and Learning, a Boston-based nonprofit group dedicated to expand learning time to improve student performance.

The extension plans are aimed at improving student outcomes as Emanuel and CPS leaders hope that more time spent in school will translate to higher grades and an increase in the high school graduation rate.

“Among 10 of the largest cities in the U.S., our students have 22 percent less instructional time than their peers, and 83 percent of our third-graders are not reading at their grade level,” Marielle Sainvilus, spokeswoman for the Chicago Public Schools, told msnbc.com. “We had to do something to ensure that our students had the time in class needed to succeed.”

However, not everyone agrees that the politicians have this one right. One researcher argues that the facts don’t back up the commonly held notion of late that US students spend less time in school than their global peers.

“To paint a broad brush is misleading,” said Jim Hull, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Public Education in Alexandria, Va. The center is an initiative with the National School Boards Association. “The vast majority of American students are required to go school for as many hours a year as students in most all other countries.”

American schools average 180 days of instruction per year, according to the US Department of Education and most nations require 175-180 days.

The Chicago Teacher’s Union is also unhappy with the plans which, would require longer working days from their members when Mayor Emanuel has rescinded a 4% pay increase given to teachers last year. Emanuel also reportedly asked teacher to waive their union contract to work the extra hours. The issue makes the forthcoming contract negotiations between CPS and CTU more complicated. CTU members have already voted to authorize a strike which could take place anytime from mid-August onwards.