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More on Chicago School-Day Length and the Teachers Union

The school-day stretching came pretty quick on the heels of the new school year, meaning it’s clearly not going to be widely implemented. Even if you are a proponent, that’s probably not a bad thing.

school bell

 

Two more good reads on the arguments over a longer CPS school day. First, Alexander Russo, who commented yesterday and who has a post, the title of which sounds about right: “Enough Embarrassment To Go Around.” This I thought was interesting (because it lined up with some stuff I read): about how CPS didn’t “get around to rolling out a half-baked longer school day and year proposal until what felt like August but might have been July….”

What I’d been reading up on is Massachusetts’s experience with its ELT (extended learning time) initiative. They went into it with substantial planning (PDF):

State leaders, including the House and Senate education committee chairs, worked with Massachusetts 2020 to develop elt policy. In 2005, the legislature approved $500,000 to provide planning grants of at least $25,000 to twenty-five schools in sixteen districts throughout the state. In April 2006, implementation plans were approved for seventeen schools in eight districts, and the five districts that were able to negotiate labor agreements received funding for ten initial ELT schools. The state legislature approved $6.5 million for ELT, which fully funded all ten schools at $1300 per student and provided new planning grants for the 2007-2008 school year.

And made some interesting choices with regard to the local teachers union:

By the terms of the district’s agreement with the Boston Teachers Union, participation in ELT is voluntary for permanent veteran teachers. In the first year of implementation, about 50 percent of teachers at Edwards participated in the math league portion of the expanded day, meaning that some groups were taught by paraprofessionals or teachers with expertise in a different subject area. Data showed that the students who made the greatest gains were taught by certified math teachers.

The rollout has gone slowly (PDF):

Three cohorts of schools have been awarded ongoing implementation grants since 2006-2007; the total number of ELT schools in the 2009-2010 school year is 26 schools in 10 districts.

And according to the consultant group that’s been evaluating ELT for four-plus years, it unsurprisingly takes longer still for schools to adjust (PDF):

In 2009-10, schools were also perceived by multiple state stakeholders as making significant refinements in how to balance academics and enrichment, especially participating middle schools. Whereas before ELT schools may have chosen to layer on interventions and enrichment activities without examining core instruction, in 2009-10, support to schools focused on helping schools analyze how they used time and implemented core academic instruction, and then on what additional interventions were needed to build on core instruction.

Elementary schools were thought to be better able to “connect the dots” during 2009-10 in terms of how to use very long blocks of English Language Arts (ELA) and math time. Observed improvements in elementary schools were believed to reflect the technical assistance focus of the year which was “the core and more” and focused on how to successfully implement “the more” of expanded learning time (beyond core academics).

In their 2010 review of the existing literature (PDF), Erika Patall, Harris Cooper, and Ashley Batts Allen found that “the evidence suggests there may be a neutral to small positive effect of extending school time on achievement, and there is little chance that extended time has a negative effect,” but that “that the success of the extended time programs examined in studies reviewed in this synthesis may be because of the fact that teaching quality and classroom environment were often considered in the extended time program implementations.”

In other words, it’s possible that extended school days aren’t better in and of themselves, but committing to focus time and energy on remaking the school day results in improvements generally—sort of like when you’re studying and you decide you’re really gonna spend lots more time on it this time around, but really the important thing is that you’re sweating it. Though the authors ultimately determine that the findings “suggest that all else equal in terms of the quality of instruction and classroom environment, more time in school is likely to lead to improvements in academic achievement.”

Anyway, Russo’s post was in response to the other piece I wanted to mention, by Eric Zorn, in which he excoriates the Chicago Teachers Union for bungling: “diffuse and inconsistent”; “confused obstructionists”; “ineptitude.”

Basically, Zorn is saying that the CTU doesn’t have it together and Russo is saying that while that may be true, CPS doesn’t either (“bumbling,” “petty"). Since these are not mutually exclusive criticisms, I think the first comment on Russo’s post is well worth your time: “both the CPS and CTU are positioning themselves for the contract discussions that will take place for FY13 and beyond.”

I’d be willing to bet we’ll get a longer school day, just not as quickly as CPS suggests it wants, which is probably for the best.

 

Photograph: beggs (CC by 2.0)

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