A little more than a month ago, a deal was reached over the length of the school day between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school board.
We can only pray the real winners are Chicago’s schoolchildren. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Under the agreement, the Chicago Public Schools won’t ask additional district-run schools to lengthen their day this year beyond the 13 elementary schools that already voted to do so. Emanuel had pressured the unions with financial incentives to agree to adding 90 minutes of classroom time.
Still, in the grand scheme of things, the agreement ducks the real issue at hand.
The United States obviously needs a longer school year. The standard six-hour, 180-day calendar including a three-month summer vacation is derived from 19th century agrarian society. No other facet of our society, let it be government or business, considers its year to be composed as such.
Our system is structured around farming and harvesting, even though less than 1% of our population claim farming as an occupation. I like how Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, put it: “Our children are no longer working in the fields. And Mom isn’t waiting at home at 2:30 with a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. That just doesn’t happen in many American families anymore.”
Typical proponents of this calendar change cite the reason that additional learning time will ensure more instruction in reading and math to students. That’s a fallacy. In his book Education Nation, Milton Chen writes, “Restructuring time doesn’t mean merely adding more of the same kind of hours to a traditional school day. Simply extending the school day with rote memorization and drill and practice will not increase higher levels of student learning and may well decrease motivation.”
Now, this is where quality over quantity comes into the debate. Extending the school year without making drastic changes in the curriculum, is utterly useless. We need to transform our curriculum into a global curriculum grounded in 21st century skills. Until we accomplish this, lengthening the school year will only subject students to more days of lousy test prep in classrooms.
The question that remains is the cost of this proposition.
In the Carolina Journal, Terry Stoops, an education policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, North Carolina, explains:
“The Expanded Learning Time Initiative in Massachusetts increases instructional time by as much as 30 percent and comes with a price tag of an additional $1,300 per student per year. In my 2007 John Locke Foundation Spotlight report titled “Better Instruction, Not More Time,” I calculated that, at the Massachusetts funding level, it would cost taxpayers an additional $656,500 yearly to implement a longer school day at a typical North Carolina elementary school. A modest pilot program at five of North Carolina’s 1,800 elementary schools would cost nearly $3.3 million per year. This estimate does not include the increased energy costs required to cool an otherwise vacant school building during the summer or the increased maintenance costs required to keep the building operational for additional weeks or months.”
Education is essentially the economic growth engine. But to my dismay, our nation’s politicians believe that cutting education spending is the silver bullet to solving our fiscal woes. In Illinois, about $200 million statewide was cut from education spending compared with this year. The cuts will affect how much in general state aid payments schools get.
Our politicians don’t get it.
Children are the future of America. I wish that statement was nailed to every desk of every congressman and congresswomen in America. If the United States can spend billions bailing out the Wall Street fat cats, they are entitled to spend billions revamping our education system.
In sum, it’s a do-or-die moment. It’s time for our politicians and teachers unions to get their act together.