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Rahm Emanuel right to be a bully about a longer school day

Updated: November 26, 2011 12:28AM

Unless Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis can convince us that Chicago is among the top instead of near the bottom of major U.S. cities in the amount of time students spend in the classroom, she is fighting a losing battle.

Most people understand that the average teacher’s day doesn’t end when the last student walks out of the door. There are lesson plans to update, papers to grade, meetings to attend and other non-classroom tasks.

Still, there is no getting around the fact that Chicago is lagging behind other big cities when it comes to classroom instruction time. So why the resistance?

Why should Mayor Rahm Emanuel have to kiss Lewis’ behind in order to get schools to voluntarily participate in a program that launches the longer day?

Indeed, parents who have kids in the public schools and taxpayers who are being asked to pay more for schools, ought to be outraged that adding more time to the school day has led to such a raucous debate.

Frankly, if the mayor is bullying, bribing and threatening school administrators to get them to get on board with a longer school day, his tactics aren’t very effective.

Thus far, only five schools have agreed to participate in the “Longer School Day Pioneer Program,” even though teachers at participating schools will receive a 2 percent pay raise and the school will be eligible for up to $150,000 in discretionary funds.

Although schools aren’t snapping up the bonuses, the CTU has filed a lawsuit with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board alleging that CPS is coercing teachers into approving waivers and conducting “sham elections.”

By next year, CPS will likely be embroiled in a slew of messy legal challenges over the longer school day.

Meanwhile, the children in Chicago’s public schools will be stuck in the same old rut.

Obviously, teachers should not be made scapegoats for poor-performing schools. But like parents, community, churches and other stakeholders, teachers must shoulder a big part of the responsibility for the system’s dismal reputation.

That’s why I’m not as offended by Lewis’ claims that the mayor used “profanity” and that he “pointed his finger” in her face during a closed meeting about the longer school day as I am by Lewis’ assertion that Emanuel’s push for an extended school day isn’t about education.

Lewis relayed the following to reporters about her private meeting with the mayor:

“[He] talked about adding 90 minutes to the school day, saying: “I can’t have kids on the street at 2:15,” she said.

“I called out what he was doing had nothing to do with education,” Lewis said, explaining what prompted the mayor to unload on her.

“So this is not about education. This is about safety . . . This is baby-sitting and warehousing,” Lewis said she told the mayor.

I give her credit for trying make sure teachers will be paid a fair salary for the additional time on the job, but her “babysitting” remarks are insulting.

The world has changed dramatically. There probably isn’t a worker in America that isn’t being asked to do more for the same salary or less.

Twenty years ago when I started in this business, all we had to do was craft a story.

Now reporters have to worry about photographs, videos, blogs, Facebook and Twitter. That means a day that used to start at a certain time and end when the story was passed on to an editor can last well after the evening news signs off, as reporters attempt to keep up with what’s being posted in never-ending blogs, e-mails and tweets.

You adjust.

The teaching profession is no less challenging. But any teacher who believes this push for a longer school day is really about “baby-sitting” and “warehousing” kids to keep them “safe” — which these days means to keep them from getting killed — are probably too jaded to spend the additional time wisely.

Obviously, additional teaching time isn’t going to solve all of the problems at CPS. More parents have to get involved.

Still, the mayor is absolutely right to be a bully about the one thing schools can control.

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