Huffpost Chicago

Chicago Longer School Day Battle Continues: Parent Groups Demand Meeting With Rahm

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Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, visits with Brandy Toliver, left, and Mariah Neyland, in their first grade class at the CICS Washington Park School on the city's South Side Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, right, visits with Brandy Toliver, left, and Mariah Neyland, in their first grade class at the CICS Washington Park School on the city's South Side Thursday, Oct. 27, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Opponents of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's plan to lengthen the school day for Chicago Public School students joined forces this week -- and are demanding a meeting with the mayor himself.

When Emanuel and CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard began pushing for a longer day last year, the opposition seemed to be coming primarily from the Chicago Teachers Union, which accused the Emanuel administration of bribing and coercing schools to adopt his plan early, and avoiding union negotiations in the process. While the issue of teacher pay has been (sort of) solved, many parents are still not on board with going from a 5 hour and 45 minute school day to a 7.5 hour one.

CPS has been defending its plan by saying Chicago students currently spend 22 percent less time in school than the national average. They also point to research by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) which reportedly shows that more class time improves student achievement. When the Chicago Sun-Times questioned the NCES about this data, however, the response was surprising.

“In putting it all together, somebody is making a lot of assumptions,’’ the NCES researcher told the Sun-Times of the CPS calculations. “We do not do that at the National Center for Education Statistics.’’

Last month, CPS Chief Instruction Officer Jennifer Cheatham arrived at Morgan Park High School armed with the aforementioned research, but was quickly "outhustled and outgunned" by a group of CPS parents who believe the district is releasing misleading information about the longer school day, according to educator and HuffPost blogger Matt Farmer.

"it was probably the angriest I've seen parents leave any of the 'longer day' meetings we've held or attended," South Side mom Becky Malone told Farmer.

The coalition of 16 parent groups demanding a meeting with Emanuel this week are from all over the city, according to the Sun-Times: "... from Rogers Park to Beverly, from Logan Square to Lakeview...":

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.

Wendy Katten, director of Raise Your Hand, told the Chicago Tribune their opposition to the longer day has nothing to do with the teachers union, and a union spokesman confirmed that they had nothing to do with the formation of the coalition.

Katten told the Tribune she does support a longer day, just not 90 minutes longer. She also questioned how the district would pay for it.

"Simply going to a longer school day without going to a higher-quality school day is not going to get the job done," Phillip Jackson, executive director of Black Star Project, told the Tribune. "And we feel like you must have parental and community involvement in major decisions about the children in public schools, and we have not seen that."

While CPS told the Sun-Times they are "strategically investing in initiatives that will ensure that additional time is quality time," some parents aren't buying it. Parent Jonathan Goldman explained his concerns to CBS Chicago:

Goldman said school officials should present a budget for the longer school day, noting in Boston and Houston, schools are spending an extra $1,300 to $2,000 per pupil to lengthen the school day.

“If you extrapolate those costs to Chicago Public Schools, we’re talking about between $500- and $800-million in new costs, in order to roll this out effectively,” Goldman said. “That’s on top of the $600- to $700-million deficit that CPS has already announced that they have. How are they going to make this work?”

Parents, who still don't know when their students will be starting school in the fall, hope a meeting with Emanuel will give them some answers.

“You can pay attention to the nuts and the bolts of the schedule all you want, but if you don’t mentally prepare and take the adults through the transition, it’s not going to be successful,” Genevieve Melody Elementary School Principal Nancy Hanks told the Chicago News Cooperative in January.

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