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The race for City Hall

Jobs and schools promise to be top issues in next year’s city elections. The mayor’s education agenda faces its toughest test in the African-American communities that gave him strong support in 2011.

No time to waste on longer day

More time in school means more time for core subjects, expanded curriculum so that students get expanded opportunities for learning, plus more time for teachers to plan together. Adding 90 minutes to the day is a strong start, though ideally children would get even more time to learn.

 Chicago’s children deserve better. The majority of the city’s public school students today are not being prepared for success in this increasingly competitive global economy. Without dramatic change, it is unlikely that Chicago students living in poverty today will even have the chance to live a middle-class life.  That is unacceptable. Like other major U.S. cities, Chicago is working to ensure equal educational opportunities for all of its students, many of whom start school well behind their suburban counterparts.  While progress has been made recently, there is a long way to go. The city’s schoolchildren score lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (in 4th grade reading and math and 8th grade math) than do children in other large cities, and only 57.5 percent of Chicago students graduate from high school. Without a high school diploma, students are doomed to low wages and few options.  

The city’s schools are hampered in their efforts because, unlike other major cities, they are trying to educate their students with fewer than 1,000 instructional hours each year.  The school year is 1,110 hours long in Boston. In Houston, it is 1,305 hours, the equivalent of 10 weeks of additional instructional time each year compared with Chicago. Both these cities perform far better on national tests.  

The bold effort by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Jean-Claude Brizard to add 90 minutes to the school day will bring Chicago in line with other cities. That’s a strong start, though ideally Chicago schoolchildren would have even more time to learn.  

Over the last several years the National Center on Time & Learning has examined high-performing, high-poverty schools across the U.S.   Many of these schools operate with seven-and-a-half to eight-hour days. Some operate with both longer days and as many as 15 to 20 more days of school each year.  Many of these schools are public charter schools with the autonomy to set their schedules, but across the country, we are seeing movements in district schools as well to expand time to improve achievement.  In Charlotte, North Carolina, where the schools’ produce strong educational outcomes, all of the district’s schools operate for seven hours daily.   

Of course, what schools do with the time to improve teaching and learning is what matters most. Chicago should expand time thoughtfully to address three important areas.

Focus on better curricula, teacher planning

First, having more time enables a rigorous focus on the core reading and math curriculum. Chicago, along with the rest of the state – and most other states in the U.S. – has begun to adopt the Common Core Standards that specify what children should know and be able to do in order to graduate from college and be career-ready. These new standards are more rigorous than the standards reflected in the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, and teaching a curriculum aligned with them effectively will simply take more time.  More time also allows for more individualized support for students  in the subjects where they need help most.  Extra support classes, for example, are one of the keys to success in high-performing, high-poverty  schools.

Second, having more time allows for a well-rounded curriculum. Many parents and teachers are concerned that the era of accountability has narrowed the curriculum, forcing a focus on math and reading at the expense of science, history, civics, art, music, drama, physical education and other enrichment programming that engages students and keeps them interested in coming back to school. More time makes it possible to offer a breadth of learning opportunities and still allows ample time for core academics.

Third, more time means more time for teachers to prepare lessons and to build professional learning communities across grades and subjects, as well as to analyze and use data to assess their students’ progress and offer individualized instructional supports.

In our early work in Massachusetts we saw  how chronically low-performing schools, including the Kuss Middle School in Fall River and the Edwards Middle School in Boston, have capitalized on  more time to accelerate student achievement. Today, both schools have significantly narrowed –or even closed – the achievement gap with the state in both reading and mathematics.  In New York City, researchers found that students who attend schools with significantly longer school days and years outperformed students attending schools with more standard schedules.  

We know what is possible with more time. From New York to Houston to Chicago, children deserve the opportunities to achieve and succeed that time makes possible.

Jennifer Davis is the co-founder and president of the National Center on Time & Learning. This article first appeared on the Center’s website.


anonymous wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

Edwards - Teacher's role?

Really missed an opportunity to run not just a one-sided editorial from Ms. Davis but to provide real context for the teacher driven changes at Edwards Middle school. Teachers need to be partners in educational change not opponents to belittle like Rahm and the rest of the "corporate" educational enterprise has sadly decided to make the basis for his platform of educational "reform".

A parent, not a teacher.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

time on task

Jennifer Davis became an expert on education --how? Her organization's leadership team of five has one person who actually has studied education. It's amazing how many self-proclaimed experts there are that are never questioned. More time in a failing school is not going to make it better. There was a reason that it was failing and it wasn't a shortage of time.

Eric wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

Our schools will not improve if we only value what tests measure

The problem is not the amount of time kids spend in our schools, it's what is being done with that time. As a parent and educator, I don't trust Rahm and Brizard to use that time effectively. All these unproven initiatives that they've supported (NCLB, Renaissance 2010, Charters, Common Core Standards) don't work.

We are forcing low-income kids to assimilate to middle class norms, and until that guarantees them equal employment opportunities, it won't work. We need equity in the curriculum, standards, funding and the workplace to get the drastic changes in the achievement gap that we need. Until then all we will get are these false silver-bullets.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

Longer Day

Hiring classroom monitors to oversee the kids at their computerized learning modules -- that is what the longer day is about for Emanuel.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

Longer School Day

A richer school day with all the subjects and time spent that the Emmanuel children get at the Lab school is what we is wrong to just extend the school day without the same things as the mayors children get.....are our children second class?

Anonymous wrote 3 years 8 weeks ago

National Center on Time and Learning

Catalyst, it would be a great benefit to your readers if you would provide background info upfront on your guest editors and their organizations.

How long has the organization been in business? Where is its funding coming from? What is Jennifer Davis' work experience in K-12 education?

Also, is NCTL paying Catalyst to post this editorial -- much the same way that Education Week gets corporate support for comment on certain reform issues That would also be very nice for you to let your readers know.

We have Advance Illinois, Stand for Children, and National Association of Charter Schools already. I'm sure I'm missing some, but it's starting to get crowded, with a PAC for every nuance of the ed reformers' issues.

lobewiper wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

The above op-ed

I'm sorry, but I see nothing to object to in the op-ed, above. It makes sense that a longer school day will afford more learning opportunities for students and more time for teacher-team building and planning needed interventions for struggling students.

One of my concerns is whether the schools will be able to afford the staff training and additions (not all schools have even one reading specialist/coach). An example of this is the RTI (Response to Intervention) initiative that was supposed to be rolled out this past school year. For those not familiar, RTI involves regular benchmark testing 3 or more times per year (e.g., Scantron, NWEA MAPS). This permits identifying low-performing students, which are then supposed to receive supplemental support tailored more specifically to their instructional needs (like special ed. is supposed to do) while they are still in the regular ed. program. The theory is, some and perhaps even many kids will then catch up to their peers as a result and not require special ed. placements.

Although other districts throughout IL have effectively implemented RTI, CPS is still at square one in all but a few schools and kids' rights to effective RTI are being ignored on a massive scale. To properly implement this initiative, the full backing of the building principal is needed. (The research as well as those I know doing this successfully say so.)

CPS has not even clarified how schools can find the additional time in the current school day to implement RTI intervention programs. The state says it can be done during regular instructional times (but people in the know say for a single teacher to provide Tier 2 and 3 interventions as well as Tier 1 (Tier 1 being "differentiated instruction" using the core curriculum) is almost totally impossiblel

The CPS Teaching & Learning website's RTI tab says Tiers 2 and 3 must be delivered IN ADDITION TO regular instructional time, but where's the time? A longer school day and/or year will be necessary simply to meet the state's RTI regulations, which this year call for both academic and behavioral RTI!

I do not doubt the sincerity as well as the experience of the author, but we need to stop merely arguing about things in this very general way and face the political and educational facts on the ground.

John Haberstroh wrote 3 years 7 weeks ago

Does Davis group have any real data on longer day effectiveness?

Davis cites only anecdotal experiences, her visits to long-day schools that have been successful. You'd think the group that calls itself National Center on Time and Learning would have some actual scientific data, but apparently not or you would think she would cite it.

Not that Chicago schools don't have an unusual number of holidays and a school day that is bit on the short side. But is instituting one of the longest school days in the nation the way to go? Maybe we should compare length of school days across similar urban school districts and see if that one variable is 'the key to everything'. On the other hand, like National Center on Time and Learning we could just fly blind, since after all 'super-long school day' sounds kinda good.

Anonymous wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Tribune and Sun Times report

Tribune and Sun Times report that 8 out of 9 Chicago charter operators perform below the district average for traditional public schools -- proof that the CPS school day means better outcomes for children than charters' longer day.

Could it be because of the credentialed, union teachers at traditional schools?
Charters were supposed to be the answer to failing CPS schools. Now they are shown to be seriously failing. They cost taxpayers just under half a billion a year to run.


Anonymous wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

National Center for Time and Learning

Jennifer Davis' group is funded by CPS. It is, in effect, an extension of CPS. CPS pays this group to tell taxpayers what CPS wants them to hear.

lobewiper wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

Charter vs. public school performance

"Tribune and Sun Times report that 8 out of 9 Chicago charter operators perform below the district average for traditional public schools -- proof that the CPS school day means better outcomes for children than charters' longer day."

Sorry, Anonymous, but I disagree. There are several factors involved in school performance. Your argument leads to the improbable conclusion that even shorter school days would enhance performance still further, which is absurd.

The amazing thing is that some charters perform as well better than a public school (when other variables such as student motivation ,ability, and parental support) are held constant. Instead of disparaging the author of this article and questioning her credentials, we need to be examining what high performing charters and high performing public schools are doing that others aren't, and learn from such a study.

What is needed is careful research, NOT hot air!

anonymous wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

What is needed is careful research, NOT hot air! - Agreed!

But this editorial hot air is fair from research driven.
We need to look at all successful models. Time-on-task, assessment models that are integrative with classroom activity, etc.

There is a reason the author has no background in education. Its simply not a lucrative career choice. Its much better bouncing around at a variety of corporate and special interest positions and then placing yourself as a "leader" in education thought because you can throw money at politicians.

Don't be stupid, this woman would have no interest in "education" if it wasn't a six figure job for her.

Rod Estvan wrote 3 years 6 weeks ago

re: rti

That was an extremely thoughtful review of the current state of RtI in CPS. Access Living is extremely concerned about how the failure of CPS teachers to effectively document interventions is failing to provide a basis for identification of learning disabilities in CPS schools.

As to other districts effectively implementing RtI, I would say the best is Naperville. But that is because the district heavily funded it. As you may know last year ISBE's budget for RtI implementation was cut to $1 because of the fiscal collapse of the state. CPS has allocated money, but not nearly enough and as your post indicated mass confusion exists on this issue.

Access Living would like to collaborate with you and other concerned teachers on this important issue. Please feel free to contact me at

Rod Estvan

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