There has been plenty of chatter in the past weeks about Chicago’s plans to extend its school days by 90 minutes. An editorial in today’s Washington Post asks why won’t the Chicago Teachers’ Union support a longer school day? Well, they are a union, which is designed to protect teachers pay and work. But this aside, how many people do you know that would accept 2 percent more pay for more than 20 percent more work?
Teachers at more than a dozen CPS schools have agreed to the terms, and more will likely sign on in the coming weeks. They are the heroes of this editorial because they are “willing to buck the union leadership” and because, we are reminded, it’s all about the student. Except it’s not just about the student. Remember that most important in-school factor for student learning that needs better systems for evaluation, training, support, promotion and pay? We held a focus group recently with about a dozen teachers from Chicago–they were open to talking about evaluation reforms and career ladders and differential pay structures. But the 2 percent for 90 more minutes a day? At least this one small group was entirely against it.
I don’t oppose longer school days and years. There’s plenty of evidence that low income kids need more great learning to succeed academically, and extending school time is clearly one way to do this. But, tired as I am of hearing predictable complaints from unions that they are being “taken down” and disrespected, the rhetoric on the other side is equally frustrating. Mayor Emanual says “we should make it right” and that “we can’t wait” and CPS spokesperson Becky Carroll says that a longer school day “backed by mounds of research.” Well of course we should make “it” right, presumably referring to the school schedule. But, as a field, education is still figuring out what a right or better schedule really is, how to pay for it and who’s going to staff it. These latter questions are not sidebars—they are the core of any extended time design. Because what we really know from research is that not all time is the same—that a lot of it is poorly spent and not something worth extending at all—and that improving learning means improving teaching.
There isn’t nearly enough attention to improving teaching in the ELT debate in Chicago and elsewhere, which is interesting given that teachers are otherwise the center of the reform universe. I’ll get more than one email saying that more time with great teachers is what we really want and therefore we need more time. I don’t disagree. But I guarantee that more time without great teachers will move the evidence needle on ELT in the wrong direction.