The [Wednesday] Papers
"Having previously decreed that all Chicago Public Schools students should spend 7 1/2 hours a day in school, Mayor Rahm Emanuel compromised with himself on Tuesday, decreeing that elementary school students could get by with 7 hours instead," Mark Brown writes today for the Sun-Times.
"This was characterized by some as the mayor backing down or compromising with parents who believed Emanuel's plan for a longer school day went too far."
By "some," Brown means his colleagues in the media, as we shall see.
"I suppose you could look at it that way, although just as likely is that the mayor had planned to settle on 7 hours all along.
"Emanuel campaigned on a longer school day. Emanuel will get a longer school day. The exact length of time was never as important as making good on his pledge to keep Chicago students in the classroom as much as students in the rest of the country.
"He does that, you may have noticed, pushing for more than he expects to receive in the end. That way he doesn't have to play the bully who always gets his way like the last mayor. He's the mayor who is equally in a hurry to get things done but still capable of listening, or so we are to conclude."
By "we," Brown means his colleagues in the media, as we shall see.
"Many of the parents who had been pressing Emanuel to opt for a 6-hour day for elementary schools remained unconvinced Tuesday that the mayor had listened to them - even if his decision appears to have met them halfway.
"This was particularly true of the ones who were blocked from attending the mayor's news conference at Disney II Magnet Elementary School in the Old Irving Park neighborhood, where he announced his longer school day decision.
"They said they only came to listen, and having met a few of them previously, they hardly struck me as the types who would have been disruptive, but they were kept at bay from the Disney auditorium so as not to detract from the happy-faced choreography."
Such as third-grade Disney teacher Adrienne Garrison explaining that the additional classtime her school has already added "has allowed my students to view mistakes as being something healthy; because as a teacher, I'm not simply saying 'incorrect' and moving on. As a class, we're taking the time to explore different modes of thinking, to interact with different methods of getting the right answer.'"
Do you have an extra desk for Rahm, Mrs. Garrison?
"Their stated concerns remain what they've saying been all along - that there still is insufficient information about how CPS will fund the longer school day or how it will better use the time to deliver a better educational experience," Brown writes.
"With schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard vowing to find the money from within CPS, they question how it's possible to judge whether the longer school day will be an improvement until you know what you're giving up. It's a valid point.
"Bogdana Chkoumbova, Disney II's principal, explained Tuesday how her school funded a longer school day in the years before it was picked last fall as one of 13 pioneer schools to receive $150,000 from CPS to showcase the program - through grant-writing, fund-raising and 'endless volunteer work.'
"That's not feasible for many schools - and there's a lot of doubt about every school getting that extra $150,000, too.
"Look, I don't want to sound too snarky. This could be a great step in the right direction if the resources are there to make it work. The real travesty is that we allowed the school day to shrink to 5 hours 45 minutes without anybody forcefully complaining."
Yeah, what about that?
"Let me remind you how we got here," Rahm said yesterday. "In 2003, people negotiated the shortest school year."
Really? What people?
But Rahm - again - doesn't exactly have his facts straight.
"[Arne Duncan] went on to emphasize the importance of adding 15 minutes to the school day while cutting a week off the end of the school year, when 'lots of cleaning of desks' takes place rather than 'lots of teaching and learning,'" the Tribune reported in 2003 when a four-year contract with the teachers union was approved.
So the 2003 contract lengthened the school day, though barely.
An aside about Duncan:
"The tongue-lashings Chicago Public Schools has endured in the last several weeks over its short school day - U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called it a 'disgrace' - have overshadowed the fact that that many suburban students aren't receiving much more instruction time than CPS," the Tribune reported last September.
I don't think anyone is opposed to a longer school day per se; it's just the politics of a longer school day we're sick of.
And that's why the media meme that Rahm - again - listened to voices other than his own and like a great leader compromised at the margin while meeting the core principle of his goal is maddening. Even if true, it's a crazy way of governing that I doubt we'd want Mrs. Garrison teaching her kids: Announce your plan first and make every stakeholder you failed to consult kick, scratch and scream to get heard. Pay fake protesters to crowd public meetings on your behalf. Consistently get your facts wrong. And be as secretive and snippy as possible.
Consider the exchange between Rahm and CBS2's Jay Levine in this report:
LEVINE (voiceover): He said he did listen but was less than forthcoming the first few times we asked him why he changed his mind. So we tried again.
Is that really necessary? Mrs. Garrison?
Unfortunately, Levine bought the meme Rahm planted, closing his report this way:
"One aide to the mayor answered the question he didn't this way: Actions speak louder than words. He heard the complaints and made some concessions. Just as we've seen him do on city sticker fees, library closings and speed cameras."
As Brown wrote, that's one way you could see it.
Another way to see it is that Rahm has shown a penchant for announcing big policy plans before doing his homework.
"The surprise compromise followed a burgeoning revolt by parents concerned the 7.5-hour day would leave young kids exhausted and older kids unable to participate in after-school activities," the Sun-Times reported.
"Under repeated questioning Tuesday, Emanuel refused to characterize the schedule change as a political retreat.
"'There was nothing magical about . . . 7 hours or 7.5," the mayor said at a news conference at Disney II Magnet Elementary, 3815 N. Kedvale, one of a handful of schools that pioneered the 7.5-hour day last fall. 'The goal was not the time. The goal was the educational opportunity and the quality that went with it . . . I would hope now that we'd stop debating about the time and start having a real discussion' about how to use it."
Um, isn't that what the teachers union and others were saying - that we should figure out how much extra time would be productive, how that time would be used, and even, dare I say, how it would be paid for?
"The mayor refused to say how he plans to pay for the modified longer day, even as the Chicago Public Schools face a deficit approaching $700 million next year," the Sun-Times report says. "He noted that his handpicked school team has found the money to make strategic investments while making hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts."
In other words, he'll let us know.
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Posted on April 11, 2012
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