City Council votes to extend Chicago school day

By Amanda Murphy

In a unanimous decision at a City Council meeting on Sept. 8, the mayor only votes to break ties the city’s 50 aldermen voted to extend Chicago’s school day. The change urged by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, will lengthen the day by 90 minutes, an alteration the members said will improve to the quality of education students receive.

At the meeting, aldermen took turns contributing their thoughts on the matter. As the speakers shared personal stories of their own educational experiences or that of their children, all expressed confidence that the extension will have a positive effect.

“We have really good teachers in our school system, and we have really good kids,” Emanuel said. “The system we have today is stacked against our teachers and stacked against our kids with the shortest school day and the shortest school year in the country.”

In an effort to make Chicago’s public education more effective, Emanuel said he thinks this is a necessary step for the city. The school day currently runs for an average of six hours, but times vary for each school.

Many aldermen spoke of a standard Chicago has not met when it comes to education, comparing our student performance unfavorably to that of Europe and Asia.

“We are behind in Chicago for a lot of different reasons,” said Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward). “Maybe it’s because of a lack of vision, maybe because of a lack of leadership on our part for the last three decades. But I think this is a movement in the right direction.”

Members of the council also brought up how an extended day is more convenient for working parents. According to Alderman Sandi Jackson (7th Ward), bringing the end of the school day closer to the end of a work day makes it more efficient for parents to pick up their children.

In response to the decision, the Chicago Teachers Union said what the city’s school system needs is quality, not quantity. They also raised questions of how this lengthened day will be funded and planned. Comparing the longer school day to a political gimmick, the CTU said the decision is being disguised as “educational reform” and does not help its students.

“[The students] need rich, thoughtful learning, not empty political gestures,” the press release said.

With the decision’s effectiveness in question, Emanuel said he thinks the leap to lengthen the day is an essential move to make. With many teachers saying they do not have enough instructional time, it is apparent an alteration needs to be made.

“[The teachers] are committed to their profession,” Emanuel said. “Let’s give them the ability to succeed.”