McPherson Elementary school on Chicago's northwest side is in chaos. Thanks to the unfunded longer school day, massive changes to the school personnel, class schedules, and class sizes are being planned for the next school year. According to the principal, Carmen Mendoza, at the latest Local School Council meeting, in order to afford the extra supportive staff (4 new classroom aides) needed to monitor the mandated recess 2 teaching positions will be lost. Due to the reduction in staff, many classrooms will become split classrooms (two grades levels in the same room-much harder to manage and teach effectively). Also, class sizes will likely be increased. On top of the lost positions, many teachers are also being displaced as the entire schedule needed to be re-designed. For example, the 5th grade, which was formerly self-contained (the same teacher teaching all subjects) will now become departmentalized (different teachers teaching math, reading, science, etc.) These shifts in scheduling require teachers to have certain endorsements, which many do not. And those teachers are being laid off.
I attended this LSC meeting. The usually sparsely attended meeting had to be moved into the auditorium due to the outrage of parents when they heard many of their favorite teachers were being lost and lasted nearly five heart-wrenching hours. Dozens and dozens of parents, many accompanied by their children all dressed in fancy dresses, ribbons, and ties for the graduation ceremonies earlier that day, spoke passionately about how upset they were to lose such beloved teachers. Many of the teachers being displaced are experienced educators with National Board Certification and 5+ years of teaching at McPherson. They were some of the founding members of the Friends of McPherson fundraising group and brought in outside after-school clubs and sporting teams. Parents and teachers alike broke down into tears while they pleaded for a way to keep these teachers in the McPherson community.
"There just isn't enough money." This was the resounding refrain from the principal. Now I don't know how much of this could have been avoided, how much was inter-schools politics or personality issues, but what I do know is that the longer school day mandate caused this insanity.
Losing fantastic dedicated teachers, increasing class sizes, and creating split classrooms...none of these things are good for kids. Even worse, the morale at the school has plummeted. Teachers who still have positions are afraid and angry, parents are threatening to remove their children, and the displaced teachers are wondering what the next step in their career will be. There are heightened tensions around who was displaced and who was kept, regardless of experience or teacher effectiveness. Everyone is upset.
My take on all of this is that the longer school day is a mess. I have heard that other schools, such as my neighborhood's local high school Amundsen, will also be losing positions as a result of the longer school day mandate. One CPS high school teacher on my facebook page pointed out "CPS wants HS teachers to take
on an additional class during the additional time. Rather than teaching
5 classes per day we may be teaching 6 if this goes through. Rather
than 150+ students we'll have 180+ students each day. Imagine trying to
singlehandedly teach 180 HS students, many of whom don't want to be
there, something like the quadratic equation or Shakespeare and make
sure that all 180 of them are learning it each step of the way...
grading 360 assignments per week. Do the math... if you spend 3 min per
paper that's 18 hours per week just in grading... not to mention
planning, paperwork, and other obligations. The unfunded longer day is
not about improving education." Ultimately, of course, it is Chicago's children who will lose out. Larger classes for longer periods of time in poorer learning conditions is not the answer. Forcing schools which are already stretched to the breaking point in terms of budgets to play around with the same or less money for more time is a logistical and practical nightmare.
The unfunded longer school day does not work. Period. So why are we doing it, Mr. Mayor?