Teachers present ‘controversial’ ideas for longer school day

SHARE Teachers present ‘controversial’ ideas for longer school day

Children line up on the playground to head into school after recess Friday, May 27, 2011 at Cambridge Lakes Charter School in Pingree Grove. Pingree Grove grew very fast in last 10 years and has one of the youngest average ages of local towns. May 27, 2011 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media

Chicago Public Schools should begin the school day with clubs or extracurricular activities to encourage kids to show up on time.

It should double the physical education students get – even if it means merely having kids climb stairs or take a brisk walk through the halls.

And to ensure CPS kids enjoy the “human right” to a daily “recess” from the school work day, parents should either volunteer to oversee recess or contribute to a fund that pays for school staff to oversee it.

Those are among the 49 ideas – some of them admittedly “controversial” – that 11 CPS teachers presented to Chicago Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard Monday, just as the nation’s third-largest school system debates what to do with the 90 extra instructional minutes promised in next year’s longer school day.

The 34-page written report of the 11 teachers actually represents the input of nearly 600 teachers who participated in a 20-day online discussion to answer the question “If you could redesign the school structure to best fit the needs of your students at this 21st century moment of rapid change, what would the school day, week and year look like?”

The question was posed by the not-for-profit Voices, Ideas, Vision, Action, or VIVA project, which aims to “elevate the voice of the classroom teacher” by serving as a intermediary between teachers unions and school districts on “topical” issues to advance education, said VIVA CEO Elizabeth Evans. National Lewis University staff also supported the effort.

Even VIVA teachers conceded in their report that one of their ideas was “controversial” – converting the entire system to a year-round schedule, which would allow the same number of instructional days but in shorter spurts with more frequent, shorter breaks. Although not all 11 members of the VIVA writing team supported the idea, the majority felt it would reduce summer learning loss, allow for struggling kids to get extra help during breaks, and ensure that multiple children of the same parents are on the same schedule.

However, VIVA authors also felt strongly that CPS needs to provide air-conditioning in all schools before it moves to a systemwide year-round calendar, said one of those authors, Brian Graves, a third-grade teacher at Murray Language Academy. “Until then, it’s inhumane to have anyone working in 110-degree heat,” Graves said.

Another innovative idea involved reserving Fridays, often the poorest attendance day of the year, for enrichment classes and extra support sessions for struggling students in grades six to 12.

VIVA teachers also recommended allowing teachers to teach in two shifts, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., so students can enjoy a longer school day without lengthening the school day for teachers. Under the current Pioneer Longer School Day pilot, teachers generally are teaching a longer school day in exchange for the equivalent of a two-percent pay raise. The VIVA staggered schedule idea might be cheaper, Graves said.

The VIVA project is not meant to undermine the Chicago Teachers Union or its president, Karen Lewis, as negotiations begin to replace a contract that expires June 30, said Graves. Lewis will be briefed on the group’s suggestions Tuesday.

“I’m a union member, too,” Graves said. “As a teacher of 13 years, I’ve never been able to get a voice in [CPS policy] because I’m in the classroom working. I thought this was an excellent way to get the teacher’s voice into the discussion.”

Other VIVA recommendations include:

– Almost doubling weekly math minutes for all grades, from an average 252 to 450 minutes; more than doubling social studies and science minutes up to grade three and padding them out in other grades; and boosting language arts by 22 minutes a week.

– Increasing art and music from 60 to 90 minutes a week and allotting schools one art and one music teacher, instead of the current half-position allotted in either art or music.

– Ensuring that computer labs are open a half-hour before and after school and during student lunch.

– Requiring all high school freshmen to take a technology courses; offering electives in Web Design, Photoshop, Microsoft Office and certified web professional skills that will help students get a job out of high school.

Before meeting with the VIVA teachers, Brizard issued a written statement saying he looked forward to their ideas, especially on what to do with a longer school day.

“Having the direct input of teachers in shaping how we lengthen the school day is critical as no one has their pulse on our classrooms and students as they do,” Brizard said in a statement.

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