The Pro Bono Thinking Society

PBTS8: A Question of Quantity

Status: Complete

REPORT (updated February 29th, 2012)

PBTS Project #9
Title:
A Question of Quantity
Start Date:
12/23/11
Report Date:
2/13/11

I. Summary of the problem
Chicago Public Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard is proposing a citywide increase in the length of school day to 7.5 hours, at all grade levels. The current CPS school day is the shortest in the nation among major metropolitan areas. The proposed change would put CPS schools at or near the top of major metropolitan areas in terms of instructional time. Teachers, parents, and administrators are engaged in a debate about this proposed change and we’ve been asked to review existing proposals and research on the topic.

Submission from the public:

“The Chicago Public School System is implementing a city-wide extended school day during the next school year. Mayor Emanuel, along with CPS CEO Brizard, have pushed and seemingly achieved a 7.5 hour school day for ALL schools and ALL grades. CPS and the mayor paid $150000 to any school who would implement the longer day this year as a kind of “test run”. My daughter attends 2nd grade at one of these schools. She has, in direct correlation to the switch to the 7.5 hour day, become exhausted and unfocused where she was once enthusiastic and willing. Many parents have expressed the same concern. My concern is that neither the mayor nor CPS have provided ANY data that 7.5 hours is an ideal length of day for all students and they aren’t asking for input from parents at the test schools. We have been told by our principal that “the 7.5 hour day WILL be happening”. I would like to compile some measurable data that either confirms or refutes this seemingly arbitrary fixation on a 7.5 hour school day. Can there be discretions for particular schools (My daughters school has a much more academically rigorous day than other elementary schools)? There is some time sensitivity since this will pertain to the next school year and negotiations are in progress. Thanks all.”

II. Initial research and data review
Why 7.5?
After reviewing existing research, we did not find a consensus that supports the 7.5 hour school day length specifically. The current body of work provides some contradictory evidence on the effectiveness of a longer school day and, based on our findings, a clear consensus has yet to be formed on this general question. One study provides a comprehensive review of recent research on the subject and finds less than robust evidence of the benefits from a longer school day,although some positive effect, especially for at-risk students, is possible: Extending the School Day or School Year: A Systematic Review of Research (1985–2009). CPS summarizes it’s supporting data here. A couple of great resources compiled by Eric Zorn and Whet Moser provide a good picture of the muddy nature of current research. Given this, being able to pinpoint an optimum length of school day appears to be a task that is unachievable. When implementing a policy such as this, however, some specific number does need to eventually be chosen and we don’t believe the public can realistically expect this specific number to be backed by unanimous support in the research. We feel it’s worth pointing out that the risks and costs associated with a change are likely increase with the magnitude of the change. Because of this, the speed and magnitude of reform should be matched by the quality of data and tightness of consensus. In our opinion, a universal and mandatory increase to 7.5 hours does not have the appropriate level of empirical support. We believe a more moderate increase can achieve the same goals with less risk, cost, and controversy.

General
Given the current state of research into the topic, any individual or organization could likely find some contingent of empirical research to support their agenda, no matter what it involved. Our general findings lead us to believe that increased instructional time is likely to have some small positive effect on student learning, ceteris paribus, especially for at-risk students. Schools in the Chicago Public School system generally suffer from lack of instructional time, among other things. Increasing the length of school day gives the possibility of better learning outcomes simply by increasing the amount of resources allocated to instruction. We are of the opinion that a longer school day is likely to benefit students by simply making school a larger part of their lives, in addition to keep at-risk students away from potentially unhealthy environments at home and in their neighborhood. It should be noted that our analysis dealt entirely with quantity of instructional time and didn’t explore quality, which is an even more complex, and likely important, issue.

III. Recommended solution
PBTS 7+ Proposal
As mentioned earlier, our general finding is that a universal change to 7.5 hours for all CPS schools is a hammer too big being swung too swiftly. We understand the appeal of simple solutions, but we think one or two wrinkles can add significant improvements to the policy with affecting ease of implementation. Our proposal diverges from the 7.5 hour plan in just two ways:

  • 1. A universal move to 7 hours instead of a 7.5 hours.
    This would be a significant increase in instructional time but should prove to be more manageable of a change for schools and parents. We believe an increase to 7.5 hours is too drastic of a change for households and schools at the daily level.
  • 2. An “Earned Flexibility” clause for schools that have 90% of students meeting or exceeding educational standards (ISAT and PSAE).
    Schools that more efficiently allocate their scarce resources and in turn produce greater educational returns are rewarded with increased autonomy and flexibility. A school that is meeting or exceeding educational standards with their existing length of school day should earn the right to determine their own length of school day, to a minimum of 6.5 hours. This incentive-based system also works to ensure that city resources are being allocated to schools that need the most help. We feel a mandatory change for high performing schools is an inefficient use of resources.

CPS addresses this in the Full School Day FAQ:

“Why do high‐performing schools have to implement the Full School Day?
We believe that all schools, regardless of their current performance level, would benefit from an instructional day that is equal to what schools in other large urban districts are providing their students.  This is particularly important because even students who are in high performing schools will need to make adjustments once Common Core State Standards become the statewide standard in 2014.  Children today who may test high on the ISAT may see their achievement levels drop on assessments more aligned to the common core.  This additional time in the classroom will better prepare them for this more rigorous curriculum CPS is adopting this school year to provide the additional time needed in core subjects.”

While the assessment tool is changing we don’t see much reason why high-performing schools would be less successful in focusing on common core curriculum than they were with current standards, especially given an additional 45 minutes.

Our proposal shares the same goals as the CPS 7.5 plan, working to make significant changes to the current educational climate to the benefit of CPS students. We feel our plan has a bit more finesse, however, and better meets the needs of the large and diverse CPS district. At-risk students receive a greater commitment to their success while successful schools are rewarded with additional flexibility, all while working to ensure scarce resources are allocated to areas where help is needed most.

Please feel free comment on our proposal. You can also reach us on Twitter at  @probonothinking. We look forward to any feedback.

If you or your organization could use a little help solving a problem, feel free to submit a topic to The Pro Bono Thinking Society. Our only promise is an independent, unbiased, and honest effort.

IV. Sources

Webliography: Is more school better school?

CPS Interactive Report Card

Supporters of 6½-hour school day submit petitions at CPS Board of Education meeting

The Chicago School-Day Length Debate, and Other Models

Scheduling conflict: Making sense (or trying to) of the school-hours debate

Extending the School Day or School Year: A Systematic Review of Research (1985–2009)

Is it time for more time for city students?

Chicago Public Schools Aggregate Citywide Data

Chicago Public Schools Full School Day: FAQ

Hope, Concerns as School Extends Day

A Brief Review of Research Indicates Expanding Learning Time  Leads to Positive Impact for Students & School

CPS Full School Day Informational Site

BRIEFING (updated December 23rd, 2011)

Submission from the public:

“The Chicago Public School System is implementing a city-wide extended school day during the next school year. Mayor Emanuel, along with CPS CEO Brizard, have pushed and seemingly achieved a 7.5 hour school day for ALL schools and ALL grades. CPS and the mayor paid $150000 to any school who would implement the longer day this year as a kind of “test run”. My daughter attends 2nd grade at one of these schools. She has, in direct correlation to the switch to the 7.5 hour day, become exhausted and unfocused where she was once enthusiastic and willing. Many parents have expressed the same concern. My concern is that neither the mayor nor CPS have provided ANY data that 7.5 hours is an ideal length of day for all students and they aren’t asking for input from parents at the test schools. We have been told by our principal that “the 7.5 hour day WILL be happening”. I would like to compile some measurable data that either confirms or refutes this seemingly arbitrary fixation on a 7.5 hour school day. Can there be discretions for particular schools (My daughters school has a much more academically rigorous day than other elementary schools)? There is some time sensitivity since this will pertain to the next school year and negotiations are in progress. Thanks all.”

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