Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Rahm's longer-school-day argument is full of holes

The mayor says he "can't wait for a high-class" debate on a longer school day. I'm not sure what he means by "high-class." I hope it means he won't spice up his arguments with his usual F-bombs. I hope it doesn't mean that only his billionaire advisers like Vitale, Pritzker, Stains, and Koldyke will be heard on this important issue.

In any event, Rahm would have a tough time making his case in any real debate. His singling out of a longer school day and school year as the key variables determining improved learning outcomes, has no basis in ed research. His argument that Houston's longer school day (soon to be the target of budget cuts) produces better results, is full of holes, as I have pointed out several times in this blog. It's clear that Houston, where nearly 70% of  children grow up in dire poverty, doesn't fare any better than Chicago in measurable learning outcomes, and that the gap between that city's wealthy and impoverished children is even greater than in Chi-town.

First, let me say that I am not necessarily for or against a longer school day and year. It all depends on what happens to teachers and kids during that extra time. I don't like the idea of students packed into hot, airless classrooms in the summer. And I am disgusted by Rahm's latest offer to CPS teachers -- work the equivalent of  hundreds of hours more at the rate of $4.10/hour. How demeaning.

Yesterday I spent some time on the phone with the good folks over at the University of Chicago's Lab School. It's the elite, expensive private school (founded by John Dewey) where the mayor sends his own children. What I found out was that Lab has a school day comparable to CPS. Its school year is actually a week shorter than CPS', and Lab kids and families enjoy longer vacations and spring and winter breaks together. Not only that, Lab dismisses kids an hour early two days a week so that teachers have time to meet, plan and collaborate. Not only that, the Lab school day is packed with arts, music and phys ed, rather than Rahm's favorite subject -- test prep. Not only that, but Lab teachers have an hour for lunch. Wow!

By the way, all these policies and schedules are hatched out in negotiations between administration and the union representing the teachers at Lab, rather than on a politician's whim. BTW, those negotiations aren't carried out in the press, Rahm.

Now I think it's reasonable for people to ask, why would Rahm abuse his own children by depriving them of a longer school day and year? Obviously, his panacea of more seat time is only for other people's children. It might also be reasonable to ask why so many of  Dewey's ideas about education are only made available to the children of the wealthy and powerful.

Yes, Rahm. Let's debate.


  1. I love the comparison to the Lab School. Education is about quality not quantity. Since real quality is not easily measured... standardized tests don't do a very good job of it... Rahm is focusing on quantity as a way to make teachers look bad if they point out the research showing that longer days don't boost achievement. If teachers reject the idea of working 26% more time on the clock for a 2% pay cut (it's not a 2% raise when they just got a 4% pay cut) they'll be portrayed as lazy and/or greedy and insensitive to all those Americans who don't have a union to help them get a fair wage and decent working conditions. For Rahm it's a win-win. If he gets a longer day, he's a hero to parents (for no real reason) and if he doesn't, he can bash the union as a bunch of lazy thugs.

    I'd love to see Rham debate Mike Klonsky about this issue... we'd see who the real thug is.

  2. I'm ready, Mr. Cantor. Bring him on!

  3. Great blog today, Mike.

    Too many progressives are afraid this bullshit "solution" is too popular with parents, that the union can't be seen to oppose it, ("besides parents see a babysitting freebie"). But that cynical view of parents suggests they're self-interested beyond reason. But this is about the facts. The union should not be complicit in setting up parents for inevitable let down by embracing bubblegum solutions.

    Why are we still shying away from what you so eloquently explained: the economic disparities at the center of the problem. Rahm should be asked what he is going to do to mitigate (none of tax cuts-for-business nonsense). In fact he should be asked to endorse proposed statewide minimum wage hike; a citywide living wage; LaSalle St. transaction tax; champion tax-the-rich, end-the-war mantra on national stage (and also endorse Council Resolution on this).

    We should refuse any gimmicks and demand a serious discussion of the elephant in the room you point to in your blog....

    Keep up the pressure

  4. The length of the school day should not be debated. It plays into positioning Rahm's as having the real interest in kids against a recalcitrant, self-interested union.

    Teachers and the unions haven't had little experience in media messaging and manipulating public opinion and will get trounced by these sociopaths if we don't start playing hard-ball.

  5. Why is it is that the city is going after teachers with such fever and not the gangs that have driven the murder rates of our children. Does this make any sense????

  6. Anon,

    By "going after" gangs, do you mean locking thousands of black and brown young people up in prison? That's exactly what they are doing. It does nothing to solve the "gang problem" nor help teachers or schools. The solution to both lies in the fight to alleviate poverty and improving the social and economic conditions of children and their families.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.