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More CPS schools adopt longer day

Updated: February 10, 2012 9:03AM

Chicago Public Schools on Monday more than quadruples the number of schools that will stretch their day for kids to 7½ hours — a number officials say so far feels “on target’’ but some challenge as too long.

Forty schools — including 38 charters and for the first time some high schools — will join 11 others that are blazing the trail for next year’s promised systemwide conversion to a longer school day.

All students will be in school for 7½ hours in the Longer School Day Pioneer Pilot, up from the current typical 5 hours and 45 minutes most CPS elementary students experience. CPS is doling out $75,000 per school plus an extra $800 per teacher to support the January start-up, bringing its total Pioneer Pilot cost to just over $7 million.

Although CPS has not made any final decisions on the exact length of a systemwide longer day and is still taking input, “based on our experience so far, the 7½ hour day is feeling really on target,’’ said Chief Instructional Officer Jennifer Cheatham. “We’re feeling confident on the length of time.’’

The longer day has created not only more time for math, reading and other subjects, but also assured that elementary students have recess and in some cases receive more time for extras such as art and physical education, CPS officials say. Plus, teachers now have more time to collaborate.

However, the parent group Raise Your Hand stands by its survey of parents at more than 200 schools indicating that though the vast majority want a longer school day, most want 7 or 6½ hours.

“We continue to hear the message that people wanted a longer day; they just didn’t want the longest day in the nation,’’ said Raise Your Hand co-founder Wendy Katten. “We’re not picking an exact time, but we think 7½ hours is too long.’’

However, among parents specifically in Pioneer schools, said CPS communications chief Becky Carroll, “the feedback, overall, has been very positive.’’ CPS contends that of 10 largest U.S. cities, Chicago ranks last in the amount of time students spent in the classroom. A longer school day was among Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s top campaign pledges.

Of the 90 extra instructional minutes the 11 current Pioneer schools each received, 71 percent has been focused on the four “core subjects’’ of reading, math, science and social studies, with the biggest chunk in reading or math, new CPS data indicates.

No two existing Pioneer schools chose the same formula. Skinner North Classical — the only magnet for high-scoring kids in the mix — added an hour of enrichment activities, including world language, computer ed and Spanish. Academically, the longer hours are working great, said Skinner North parent George K. Thiruvathukal. His kindergartner is ahead of where his first-grader was at the same time last year in reading and math, and still has energy at day’s end. But getting the kids up an hour earlier to take the bus has been a challenge, Thiruvathukal said.

Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey called a 7½ hour day “too long,’’ especially for students involved in afterschool activities, for kids who work, or for kids who get a lot of homework.

As the union and CPS officials prepare for talks on a contract that expires June 30, “maybe this is a negotiating ploy,’’ Sharkey said. “Maybe the board feels if they come in high, then the place where we will ultimately wind up is somewhere in the middle.’’

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