MEDIA WATCH: Huffington Post runs extensive story on Chicago's longer school day fights, while New York Times weighs in, too

By the second full weekend of the regular school year in Chicago, the "Longer School Day" story out of Chicago had gone national. The New York Times reported it (from their Chicago bureau chief, not from their "Chicago News Coop") in their edition of Sunday, September 18, and so did the Huffington Post (first report on September 16). Below is the report and analysis from the Huffington Post. One of the things to notice in the Huffington Post story is the return of Stand for Children to the Chicago debate, and the fact that Huffington Post is using Stand for Children and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools as its two main outside sources supporting the CPS push for the longer day. The return of Stand for Children is noteworthy. For four months following the infamous video from the Aspen Institute showing Stand for Children's Jonah Edelman bragging about how (basically) the group had used $3 million in donations from Chicago billionaires and millionaires to push through SB 7 in Springfield, "Stand" (as it likes to call itself) has kept a low profile in Chicago. Notice now that "Stand" is back, claiming, without providing evidence, that it has "mountains" of "research" to show that the longer school day being pushed by Rahm Emanuel is "better."

Among the many facts and historical realities left out of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's version of the "Longer School Day" narrative is that Emanuel's predecessor, Mayor Richard M. Daley, was the one of tolerated the current Chicago elementary school day for the 16 years Daley ran the city's public schools before Emanuel was inaugurated on May 16, 2011. During the current attack on the Chicago Teachers Union, Emanuel has pointedly ignored Daley role, or the fact that Arne Duncan (left above) negotiated two contracts with the city's school unions (in 2003 with CTU President Deborah Lynch and in 2007 with CTU President Marilyn Stewart) and left out the issue of the longer school day. When asked about his failure to get the longer school day during his either years (July 2001 to January 2009) as CEO of CPS, Duncan told Substance "We were unsuccessful." Until Emanuel, with the blessings of the national administration, decided to make the longer school day a "wedge issue" against the unions in 2011, it was of no concern to Duncan or others in the Obama administration. Emanuel's attack on the unions is no different, in the eyes of a growing number of unionized teachers, from those of his counterparts in the governors' offices of the Midwest (and New Jersey). Above, Duncan and Emanuel at a media event at Chicago's Schurz High School on September 9, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt. Chicago's Longer School Day: Much-Needed Reform Or Political Cynicism? by Joseph Erbentraut, http://www. chicagos-longer-school-day_n_962848.html?ir=Education. First Posted: 9/16/11 05:27 PM ET Updated: 9/17/11 12:00 AM ET

When Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced last year that he would begin a campaign toward his current gig, it was only a matter of weeks before he introduced his "longer school day" proposal. The issue didn't raise many eyebrows during the campaign, but in recent months it has led to near-daily blows between the Chicago Teachers Union, the school board and the Emanuel administration. As the days go by, the blows strike lower and the stakes move higher. Last week the teachers union filed an unfair labor [practice] lawsuit against the mayor-appointed Chicago Board of Education. The suit claims that CPS has attempted to bribe and coerce schools into approving the longer school day pilot program — circumventing their existing contract by signing up for the longer work day. Since CPS teachers were denied their contractually-obligated 4 percent raises — worth an estimated $100 million — earlier this year under the pretense that the system was too broke to afford them, many have wondered how the city is paying for pilot program incentives — which could cost as much as $30 million, depending on how many schools join.

Both sides have had their say in the press, with the union accusing the board and the mayor of ignoring their proposals and turning the school debate into a PR battle and longer day supporters accusing the union of being unwilling to budge. And last week, CTU president Karen Lewis told reporters Emanuel pointed his finger toward her and yelled "F--- you, Lewis" after the two had discussed the longer school day in his office.

But putting aside questions of who said what in the ongoing war of words between the union, school administrators and Emanuel, what is the longer school day battle really about? And what will the extra 90 minutes accomplish? Once again, the jury seems to be out. A NUMBERS GAME

First, there are the teachers at nine CPS elementary schools, as of Friday, who have voted to waive their contracts for the present school year and start working longer days immediately. In return, the schools receive a lump sum of discretionary funding — either $150,000 or $75,000 depending on how soon the change is implemented — while their teachers each receive a one-time payment similar to 2 percent of their district's average salary.

But on the flip side, "about 20" CPS schools have voted, thus far, to uphold the existing contract and not extend their instructional day this year, according to CTU press secretary Stephanie Gadlin. On Tuesday, Gadlin told the Huffington Post, Hendricks Elementary Community Academy in the city's Canaryville neighborhood voted unanimously against extending the school day this year. An AP report Friday disclosed that two more schools — Colemon Elementary on the city's South Side and Burnham Elementary on the West Side — voted against the day.

When the point was raised by NBC Chicago to CPS, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office replied that "there have been no schools to vote no."

"Of course CPS and the board won't tell you all the story of the scores of schools that have said 'no' to this because that is not the story that they want to tell," Gadlin said. "They want to continue using the press as their publicist and, so far, they're doing a great job of that."

Gadlin claims that the mayor's office and CPS press team is "trickling out" news of elementary schools breaking from the union to help further their preferred story line. Because the schools that have turned down the waiver have reportedly voted to do so during an "informal" vote before the waiver is officially extended, CPS is technically correct in their claim of a blemish-free school voting record on the issue.

"If a barrage of schools were signing up for the longer day, we would hear about more than one a day," she continued. The union publicly mentioned between 20 and 30 schools rejecting the pilot program, but Carroll said some schools have asked the union to stop naming them as pilot program rejectors. "There are schools on [the CTU's] list [of schools voting 'no' to the longer day] that have no business being there," she said. Further, Carroll said, "at the end of the day, the only vote that matters is a waiver vote. Until a waiver vote happens, no other formal, informal poll or snapshot in time matters."

As for where the pilot program funding is coming from, Carroll said if 50 schools sign up by January, the incentives will cost the system an estimated $7 million — much less than the $100 million price tag that the Board of Ed-rejected teacher raises carried.

"A $7 million investment in return for helping our children who are in dire need of getting more time in the classroom with their teachers is well worth those dollars," Carroll added, "And CEO Brizard is willing to make some additional, painful cuts in our budget in order to fund that investment in our students.

"We are willing to support the teachers and schools who are willing to add more time to the day in any way necessary to make that happen."


At the heart of the ongoing longer school day debate, regardless of which schools are voting which way on the waiver offer, is what benefit an hour-and-a-half-longer school day will ultimately offer to the system's students — not to mention what educational content those 90 minutes would include.

Since the longer school day became a wedge issue for the Emanuel administration in his campaign to break the unions representing organized workers in Chicago's public schools, CPS "Chief Communications Officer" Becky Carroll (above right) has emerged as a spokesperson for the Board of Education, despite her limited time on the job (she took office in June 2011) and limited knowledge of Chicago's public schools (although a CPS graduate, Carroll worked in various political jobs in Illinois before she became the highest paid PR person in CPS history — at a salary of $165,000 per year. Carroll also quotes facts and figures on numbers which reporters rarely ask her to explain, and which, when challenged, she refused to footnote. Her problems with math reportedly go back years. Above, Carroll at the Tribune Forum on September 13, 2011. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Carroll reiterated Thursday that CPS "believes very strongly, and this is backed by mounds of research, that a longer school day can provide districts with the tools to help students be successful in the classroom."

Stand For Children, the non-profit advocacy group which was the driving force behind Senate Bill 7, legislation passed earlier this year which paved the way to a number of educational reforms across Illinois including Emanuel's long-promised longer school day, agrees.

Mary Anderson, Stand For Children's executive director, told The Huffington Post her organization was "very excited" to see the handful-plus-one of CPS schools that have agreed to the longer day pilot program. She feels the longer day will allow for more enrichment programs, plus longer meal periods, recess time and time allowing for teacher intervention with students who may be struggling in a core academic area like math or reading.

"This is what parents want and what is in the best interests of children," Anderson said. "The groundswell of support indicates that they want it to happen and they want it to happen now. I hope that more schools will sign on."

And while Anderson understands the CTU's concerns over how the extra instructional time will be allocated, she said that she felt "we need to get away from the noise and focus on what's best for the students" in the midst of the ongoing squabbles. A CPS-led task force, which the CTU's Lewis declined to be a part of, is currently at work designing a blueprint for the new, longer school day.

"At the end of the day, the adults have to figure this out because thousands of CPS students are being left behind and that's simply unacceptable," Anderson added.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, shares Anderson's frustrations with student performance in the city's struggling school system and called the union's concerns over instructional content during the additional time as a "smoke screen."

Andrew Broy (above, speaking at the March 23, 2011 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education) has become one of the main people on every Chicago reporter's Roladex for quoting on educational issues, even when there are thousands of others — parents, teachers and children — who may have better informed opinions. Broy is President of the "Illinois Network of Charter Schools," a group funded by private philanthropy which is supporting the privatization of public education in Chicago. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt."Clearly [a longer day] is a step in the right direction," Broy told the Huffington Post. "I don't think it's easy to defend the length of the school day we have and we should have fixed it 10 years ago."

He challenged the union to "come forward with ways to do this constructively" and described a recent event he attended in support of the longer day as, ultimately, "the rally to be average." Even with the extra 90 minutes, Broy says, CPS non-charter schools will still register among the national average instructional time. School days at the charter schools in his system are nearly two hours longer than Chicago Public Schools and his network's leadership has publicly applauded Emanuel's proposal.

"I'm not saying the union isn't right to have some concerns about implementation, but I'm suggesting that the time to fix the problem is now," he added. "The longer school day is a necessary precondition to reform. I'm glad to see Rahm's fighting for it because it's something that really matters."


Recent analyses of instructional day length's correlation with learning outcomes have lent credence to the CTU's call for a "better school day," rather than, more simply, a longer one.

As the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday, some high-performing school districts in affluent Chicago suburbs — including Glen Ellyn, Elmhurst and Elgin — have instructional days on par with those non-charter schools within city limits. Influential SmallTalk education blogger, author and educator Mike Klonsky said the Tribune's analysis is in line with his belief that school performance — often tied to students' test scores — is "a measure of poverty, not one's going on in the classroom."

Klonsky described Emanuel's push for the longer school day as "cynical" and "politically-driven."

"What you're seeing is that, under mayoral control, a two-tiered school system is under development [in Chicago]: one for the elite, middle-class kids and another system for the poor; one filled with enrichment programs and things like that and the other has a test-and-punishment curriculum," Klonsky said.

Klonsky further described CPS's offering of mysteriously-funded waivers to longer day pilot schools as "improper and probably illegal."

"In order to push through this politically-geared agenda for the mayor, a lot of damage is being done and a lot of irresponsible kind of funding plans are being put into practice," Klonsky said. "I think the union is right, but the question is what will happen next? "It's a mystery and Rahm has no plan."


As for what happens next, all parties involved appear to be on the same page about one thing: The longer school day will be the order of the day systemwide in CPS schools beginning with the 2012-2013 academic year, after the existing teacher contract expires.

Until then, CPS is continuing their rallying cry for the lengthened day. Carroll said she expected more schools to join the pilot program in the coming days and weeks.

"Our students are struggling … and it's incumbent upon us, as adults, to come together and work out a solution," Carroll said. "Why wait a year from now and shortchange kids for a year if their teachers at their schools want to do it today and want to give their students that opportunity to get a leg up to be successful?"

As for the union, Gadlin said she hopes CPS will "come to its senses and stop these illegal elections and this union-busting campaign they're engaging in." The union's priorities, she said, remain to plan for improved day-to-day curriculum as part of the inevitable longer day coming to CPS schools -- and better compensation for the teachers themselves. She also said a majority of Chicagoans support the union's plan, citing a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners.

"Our call for a better school day is not far off from what people want for their students: a world-class education," Gadlin said. "We don't understand the urgency to do this right now. Rahm has already decreed that a longer school year is coming to Chicago so, OK, let's take a year to plan it properly to ensure students and educators have the best working conditions and learning environment possible."


CHICAGO — One by one, teachers at public elementary schools here have been voting to buck their own union and take Mayor Rahm Emanuel up on an unusual offer: to accept bonus pay in exchange for waiving union contract provisions and keeping children at some schools longer each day.

“You expect this stuff out of Republicans,” said Karen Lewis of the teachers' union in Chicago.

By Friday, nine schools were on board, and City Hall said more might be on the way, even as union leaders objected to the tactic and furiously pledged to take Mr. Emanuel and his school system before a labor relations board.

For Mr. Emanuel, who has portrayed himself as a calmer, more reserved leader in his year of transformation from White House chief of staff to mayor, the uncompromising and blunt approach is both a keeping of a campaign promise and a reminder, as one political analyst here put it, that “Rahm is still Rahm.”

Mr. Emanuel and his top aides say that when it comes to hours of class instruction, Chicago’s 482 public elementary schools compare unfavorably with schools in other cities, including Houston, Los Angeles and New York. They say they merely want children to spend more time learning at school — a notion supported by plenty of parents.

Union leaders suggest a broader motive, saying that the sidelining of labor unions and a mood against public workers seen this year in Republican-led states like Ohio and Wisconsin are now coming through in subtler ways in Democratic-leaning cities like this one, the nation’s third largest.

“It’s a nightmare,” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, who added that Mr. Emanuel lived up to his reputation for foul language in a recent meeting in his stately office at City Hall. “You expect this stuff out of Republicans.”

Even before Mr. Emanuel took office here in May, he had called for a longer school day as part of his plan to remake education for Chicago’s more than 400,000 public school students. Figures provided by the school system show that elementary school students in the public schools here are well behind those in other cities in time spent in class each year: 52,360 minutes (about 873 hours) in Chicago compared, for instance, with 60,060 minutes (1,001 hours) in New York (an estimate New York school officials say sounds about right).

“Everybody knows it’s not working,” Mr. Emanuel said in an interview. “The system is stacked against teachers and against kids.”

Last month, after teachers’ union officials turned down a proposal to pay teachers 2 percent more to teach 90 minutes longer each day, Mr. Emanuel and Jean-Claude Brizard, Mr. Emanuel’s schools chief, took the offer straight to the schools. Any elementary school that went along with the idea, which school officials began calling the Longer School Day Pioneer Program, would get extra money ($150,000 for those that started right away), and its teachers would get what amounts to a 2 percent bonus.

By agreeing to the deal, the teachers waive specific provisions of their contracts involving the length of the school day and after-school pay requirements. Schools get to decide how to use the extra 90 minutes, but it must be spent in instruction (not, say, longer lunches) in areas like math, science, literacy, art and music.

As a trickle of schools, through votes by their employees, have begun taking Mr. Emanuel’s offer, union leaders have angrily denounced it as an end run around the union, as a public relations ploy and as some combination of bribing, threatening and coercing unwitting schools and teachers.

This month, the union filed a complaint with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board, and union officials said they hoped for a hearing in the coming days, even as more and more schools are expected to take votes.

By Friday, school officials said that only two schools had voted no, though union leaders said the number was higher.

Ms. Lewis, herself a product of the city’s schools, said the union was actually not opposed to longer school days. Union officials, in fact, said they were looking at how to extend students’ daily instruction time by 75 minutes next year, mimicking, the union says, the schedule at the private school that Mr. Emanuel’s children attend.

But Ms. Lewis said that research about the effects of lengthening the school day had been mixed, and that any such change required a more thorough look at what schools would do with any extra time.

“This is something that sounds good,” she said. “But to present it as a panacea is kind of a problem.”

Some union leaders here had other worries about Mr. Emanuel’s true goals to begin with; even before he took office, he supported a bill in the Legislature that would make it easier to get rid of poor teachers and harder for teachers to strike. It would also give him more leeway in extending the school day.

Why, union leaders asked, was Mr. Emanuel so insistent on pushing this through immediately when school officials have the power to impose a longer day next year when the current contract runs out? (Why wait, Mr. Emanuel’s aides counter.)

And how, union leaders demanded, was Mr. Emanuel and his education team able to afford to offer these bonuses to “Pioneer” schools when the school board has rescinded some pay raises expected by teachers, citing a $712 million budget gap? (The cost of the pay raises would have been $80 million, Mr. Emanuel’s aides say, while the price of teacher bonuses, even if every elementary school in the city were to agree to lengthen the school day immediately, would total only $30 million.)

On the city’s North Side, outside the Disney II Magnet Elementary School, which announced on Tuesday that it was the seventh school to choose a longer school day, parents said they were pleased with what this would mean for their children, even if they were not thrilled with the growing war between City Hall and the teachers’ union.

In recent days, Mr. Emanuel has shown his trademark impatience with all the public discussion over whether or not he cursed during his last meeting with Ms. Lewis (the meeting ended with a hug, he has noted), whether his move is an attack on unions and what to make of the daily announcements by schools, one by one, that they have agreed to a longer day even as the union seethes.

“This is all an attempt to distract from the core subject,” Mr. Emanuel said of issues that he deemed questions of process, not substance. “This is not about tactics. This is about kids going from last place on education time.”

He added: “This is what I said I was going to do, and I’m doing it. I’m actually executing exactly what I said I was going to do on the campaign, which is what people voted for. I didn’t do a bait-and-switch.”

Steven Yaccino contributed reporting.