Parents in meetings on the West and North Sides this week discussing the proposal for an extended school day expressed a range of concerns far beyond the “for-or-against” terms in which the issue has been framed by Mayor Emanuel and the media.
Both groups released surveys – one large, one small, neither scientific but both gauging the views of parents who are particularly active in their children’s schools. How the longer day will be implemented and how it will be funded are major concerns.
But how long it should be is also an open question for parents. The Raise Your Hand Coalition  surveyed 1200 parents in 230 schools and found broad support for a longer school day – but little support for making it as long as Emanuel has proposed.
Only 16 percent of respondents in their online survey supported extending the school day to 7.5 hours. A vast majority – 71 percent – support a school day of 6.5 to 7 hours.
At 13 schools where the group recently won schedule changes to allow children to have recess — moving teachers’ lunch hour to the middle of the day, thus extending the school day to 6.5 hours at no cost to CPS – parents were very happy with the schedule they have, said Sonia Kwon of Raise Your Hand.
“Parents want six-and-a-half hours,” Kwon told Newstips. “Why [is CPS] asking for seven-and-a-half?”
She points out that since bus routes have been lengthened to cut costs, kids who are bused to her children’s school for special programs have trips as long as an hour-and-a-half. “With a seven-and-a-half hour day, you’ll have little kids who are away from home for ten hours every day.”
Every school’s situation is different, she says, pointing out that RYH’s recess program was harder to pass at schools with inadequate playground facilities.
Schools without playgrounds
At the Greater St. John Bible Church in Austin on Monday night, one mother said that her children have to go to another school for gym, and will have to travel even farther to get to a playground for recess.
A survey of 36 parents, teachers, and community members who attended that meeting found most favoring a longer day, but 60 percent favoring less than 90 additional minutes now under consideration.
For many, support of a longer day was contingent on sufficient planning and funding, or on agreement between CPS at the Chicago Teachers Union. The largest segment wanted additional time used to add art, science, music, and gym.
Some 73 percent did not want their schools to move immediately to a longer day. An overwhelming proportion, 83 percent, said Local School Councils, parents, community stakeholders and educators should be part of the decision-making and planning process.
“LSCs and parents have not been engaged,” said Dwayne Truss of the Ella Flagg Young LSC, who opened the meeting. “In order to get balance, the process has to be inclusive.”
Tuesday night at Coonley Elementary in Ravenswood, RYH leaders called on parents to become involved in planning at their schools, and outlined concerns that emerged from their survey. Parents want quality over quantity and a well-rounded school day, they said. They want an approach that is sustainable in a school system that has seen annual cuts. They are worried about CPS’s capacity for carrying out the plan.
‘Show me the money’
CPS has an “underwhelming track record for planning, logistics, and implementation of new policies and procedures,” said Claire Waypole. “And show me the money,” she added, pointing out that Illinois is now dead last among states for support of public education.
“There can be the greatest idea in the world, but if there’s no money for it, how is it going to happen?” she asked.
How many new art and music teachers will be available – and what’s to guarantee that schools don’t face new cuts and larger class sizes in the second year of the program, Kwon asked later. Additional money for schools that lengthened their hours this year will not be available next year, she said.
“Nobody at CPS answers any questions about money,” she said. “That’s one reason everyone is so confused.”
“We have a deficit every year, and next year we’re going to have a worse deficit,” said Truss. “So are you talking about education, or is this a political battle?”
Audience discussion ranged widely at both meetings. In both Austin and in Ravenswood, speakers who called CPS’s proposal to lengthen the school day with token payment to teachers “insulting” received warm applause. (In Austin a speaker called the proposal “legalized slavery.”)
A few parents in Ravenswood spoke against lengthening the school day. If CPS has the money for a longer day, one mother said, she’d rather they spend it on reducing class sizes.