Parents for Quality Education skeptical of mayor's pirouette on Longest School Day

While Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Jean-Claude Brizard managed to get a few hours' relief from the ongoing critique of their plan to push all Chicago public schools into what would be the state's longest school day during the 2012 - 2013 school year, the critique continued as soon as parents, teachers and students had a chance to study what Emanuel and Brizard actually said during their media event on April 10, 2012 at Disney II elementary school.

Members of Parents for Quality Education, which had held a press conference outside the City Hall offices of Mayor Emanuel on April 9, arrived at the April 10 event at Disney II to find that they were not welcome inside the building. While Rahm Emanuel and more than a dozen CPS and City Hall media handlers orchestrated the two dozen people providing the backdrop to the mayor's statements, a half dozen parents were ordered by the mayor's security to remain outside the building (above). Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.Almost left out of the news reports when the hastily convened media event was held in Emanuel's usual whirlwind fashion was the fact that the two groups that had been most critical of what critics have been calling the Longest School Day were excluded — one group physically — from the mayor's media event. Parents were forced to remain outside Disney II during the press conference and mounted a protest on the sidewalk while inside the mayor and those he had assembled followed the carefully prepared mayoral script.

Within a few hours after the media event, however, both the parents and teachers had responded. The response of the parents is reported here. The teachers responded with a press conference at the Chicago Teachers Union offices at the Merchandise Mart less than two hours after the mayor's event.

The following press statement was issued by the Raise Your Hand Coalition, part of "Chicago Parents for Quality Education" (CPQE), on April 10:

"The Raise Your Hand Coalition, as part of Chicago Parents for Quality Education (CPQE) acknowledges that Mayor Emanuel has taken into account feedback from parents and community stakeholders in his plan to revise an extended school day from 7.5 to 7 hours and add recess for all elementary school students. While this is a first step in listening to parent, teacher and community feedback, it is a small step that still does not adequately address our overriding concerns about the bigger picture of funding, staffing and programming for an extended day.

"CPQE remains steadfast in our mission to ensure that sufficient funding, staffing, training and facilities are addressed in order to provide a meaningful and broad curriculum, that includes quality early childhood, Pre-K and kindergarten, physical education, fine arts, music, technology, special needs support and second language acquisition supports including world language, heritage language, and dual language programs. We believe that every child in Chicago deserves a world-class education and we have much work ahead to ensure that these goals are met. We did not receive information from CPS today about the content or funding for next fall and that information is critical before we can make any final assessment about how our students will be impacted for next fall."

Early on April 11, 2012, the Raise Your Hand coalition posted the following on their website:

Dear Members:

"Bowing to pressure from parents and teachers, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Tuesday his modified plan for a longer school day"

"Emanuel backs 7-hour school day after parents protest longer plan"

"Parent Power"

These are a few of the headlines that appeared following today's press conference at Disney II Elementary where members of Raise Your Hand witnessed Mayor Emanuel announcing a change in his plans from a 7.5 hour to a 7hour school day for elementary students in Chicago. The 7-hour day will include a 45-minute lunch/recess period, which RYH has been advocating for over the past year.

Indeed, the headlines are proof that the parent voice has been heard and that we are having an impact. Of course, we know that the headlines don't tell the full story. We know that time alone is not the answer that we have been seeking. We should acknowledge this small win, but we cannot and will not rest until the bigger picture of funding, staffing and programming are addressed. We must build on today's positive momentum and continue our efforts to ensure that CPS children get the quality education they deserve.

We are pleased to be working with a larger coalition of parent and community groups across the city, “Chicago Parents for Quality Education”. We have a tremendous amount of work to do. Given that our current 5h45 minute day lacks many basic standards that all children deserve, and the emphasis on standardized testing has taken the joy out of learning in many classrooms, we must continue to advocate for a better, richer more diverse curricula for the students of Chicago.

While there may be a small sense of satisfaction in the air today, let’s not forget that school budgets have not gone out yet and we do not know where our schools stand in terms of staffing and resources for next year. Let’s not forget that many thousands of children in Chicago have never had access to music or art education in their CPS school. Let’s not forget that our schools are short on social workers, basic supplies, technology equipment, adequate special education services and so much more. But let’s also recognize that as parents we can make a difference and our voices have been and will continue to be heard. We must continue to demand more from the people who make policies that impact our children’s lives. If you signed our petition on a quality, funded day, join us at 4pm this Friday when we deliver the petition to the Mayor's office.

Thank you for your hard work, your emails, your trips to Board meetings, the fierce advocacy you have shown over the past year.

Here is a link to some good coverage on Chicago Tonight featuring RYH's position: