The theme among winners’ comments at the Alfred Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, Norway is one of tolerance and keeping an open mind—especially when dealing with one’s enemies. The idea that we must embrace the differences of our foes is a difficult one for me to grasp.
And yet, it’s an important lesson—one that can ease the way for me (and others) in many situations. I’d urge my fellow parents to keep it in mind when reading or talking about the longest day debate played out in the papers, blogs, Facebook, message boards and on the playground.
Part of the problem, in my opinion, is the absence of balanced reporting. I think the Raise Your Hand Coalition is trying, but first, despite their numerous press mentions, they’re not the media. Second, they are only one voice—or more accurately, one set of voices—in the storm that is CPS education policy.
And so, when community meetings are held, there are a fair number of people who walk into the room with a closed mind, itching for a fight. I’ve seen it in West Garfield Park, and I saw it yesterday during the PTA Advisory Council’s monthly meeting. Moderated by Carl Hurdlik, a CPS employee, and Cassandra Eddings, a PTA member, parent, and volunteer, the PTA advisory council was the brain child of the late Betty Durbin, a longtime PTA champion with a significant legacy at Carl Schurz High School. As an aside, I’m often asked what PTA does. This is one of the things it does. Although it was set up for PTAs, the group is welcoming to representatives from PTOs, Friends-of groups, and LSCs from CPS schools throughout the city.
Carl and Cassandra had invited Monica Lee, Directory of New Initiatives at CPS, to speak about the changes coming to CPS next year. When she first started to speak, it hit me that the Longer Day could be a classic case of a politician reading a brief and misspeaking. Thus inadvertently creating a sound bite that doesn’t convey the whole picture, but ignites hysteria as it is reported by the media and picked up by concerned Chicago parents, to the detriment of the initiative. I know this is the optimist view, but read my review of Ms. Lee’s presentation before you snap to judge.
Ms. Lee, a former math teacher, tried to convey to the concerned group of parents in the room is that the longer day is just one piece in a three-pronged approach by CPS to improve student outcomes.
While most of us in the room had children in high-achieving schools—Skinner North, Farnsworth, Blaine, Burr, Alcott, Lenart, Inter-American, Northside Prep, and Disney II—the district-wide lack of achievement relayed by Ms. Lee was shocking:
- only 7.9 percent of 11th graders score at the minimum ACT level (or higher) to succeed in college. How many CPS high school students aspire to attend college? I’m pretty sure that it’s more than 7.9 percent
- only 17 percent of 3rd graders read at grade level. 3rd grade literacy is a marker of college-readiness down the line
Clearly, CPS is failing our kids academically. Sure, not everyone wants to go to college. Not everyone should go to college. But the second largest school system in the country should prepare more than 8 percent of its total population to attend college, no?
And so it was, Ms. Lee said, that CPS decided to study the problems and come up with a reasonable solution for their amelioration. Ms. Lee told the group that the imitative seeks to do three things. It’s not enough to lengthen the school day, as so many parents have pointed out. (In fact, in her presentation, this was the last point that Ms. Lee made.) It’s not enough to change what is taught through implementation of the Common Core. And it’s not enough to change how teachers teach. The initiative is the confluence of these areas to create more college-ready students.
Ms. Lee told the group that the elements look something like this:
- Common Core is a change in what is taught from rote memorization (10 ÷2 = 5) to teaching students to understand conceptually what division is.
- Instructional Framework gives teachers models of what good teaching looks like and how they can measure their success against it, and gives them professional development tools to tweak their methods for success.
- Full School Day gives them time to understand, implement and tweak both the Common Core and the Instructional Framework. It gives time for students to catch up, but it also gives time for students to excel. The longer day also gives time for schools to offer “a richer array of academic, social and behavioral supports” and more time for “a broader set of subjects” –science and social studies as a mandate, and art, music, language if the school desires.
Then Ms. Lee went over how CPS plans to implement these changes. At this point, all the work is being done at the network and/or principal level, leaving parents mostly in the dark about what this is all going to look like. First, she said, the network chiefs had a lot of discussions about what’s best for every type of student. They conveyed this to principals, who then submitted a draft plan for next year. The draft plan’s goals reflect what parents, teachers and data say, and the schedule is to meet the parameters set by CPS. The draft plan also allows the network chiefs to flag facilities and other problems, Ms. Lee said.
The budget is still unknown because principals reported that incomplete data would be unhelpful. The district-wide budget will be presented at the March Board of Education meeting, following CPS’ typical schedule for these things, per Ms. Lee. The budgets will go to schools in March or early April, and final budgets will be due in May with the Continuous Improvement Work Plan, the replacement to the SIPAAA.
Someone in the room asked how CPS came up with a 7.5-hour day. Ms. Lee’s answer kind of surprised me. She said that CPS worked with Common Core experts, and focus principal groups, and from a content perspective to determine the ideal instructional time. For elementary school, that was 6.5 hours. The extra hour allows for lunch, recess, and bathroom breaks. As children and their parents know, there is a lot of waiting involved in group activities. For high school students, it wasn’t a huge increase over current instructional time: 6 hours and 8 minutes, adding 46 minutes to each high school day within CPS for lunch and passing time.
This is about the time than I began channeling Nobel Peace Center quotes. The Northside Prep parents were angry about the change: how were their kids going to continue their colloquium, their sports, and their extracurricular activities? I’m a non-athlete who grew up in a family full of intellectuals so this is a really difficult point for me to see. I also don’t have a teenager. Given that, I am going to bow out of any judgment on what high school should look like.