Call for improved education in Chicago Public Schools

August 18, 2011 (CHICAGO)

They have launched a campaign for what they call "a better school day." Clergy, community leaders and parents are joining the union in saying a proposal to lengthen the school day and year is not the answer.

The group wants a change in class size, a different focus for the curriculum, and a different schedule for school board meetings so more parents can attend.

Recent CPS high school test results show mostly flat and declining high school test scores on the 2011 Prairie State Achievement Exam. The scores show only 7.9 percent of students meet college readiness benchmarks.

School officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel believe the test results underscore the need for more time in class and an extended school year for students.

"I am all for a high quality education," said Mayor Emanuel. "You can't do it with the shortest school day and the shortest school year in the country."

The Chicago Teachers Union and school activists believe lengthening the school day and year is not the answer to better schools. They think teachers are being asked to do more for less.

"We haven't developed a broad curriculum that allows students to start doing better. So we're just going to have them do the same thing for longer? That is almost the definition of insanity," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.

"We have a Hollywood mayor. We can get some corporate help, not just to get principals increases or incentives for five or 10 thousand dollars, but to really invest some money in our school system," said Rev. Gregory Livingston, Mission of Faith Baptist Church.

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard said the test results clearly show that CPS students can no longer afford to have the shortest school day and year in the country.

The Chicago Teachers Union, parents, activists, clergy, the Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization and students gathered on the campus of King College Prep High School on Thursday to call on school officials to focus on quality education rather than quantity.

"We have come together to advocate for a better school day, not just a longer one," said Jitu Brown, of the Kenwood-Oakwood Community Organization.

"CPS needs to readjust their priorities and invest in the community schools," said parent Marsha Godard.

The group's "better school day" campaign envisions recess for all K-8 students, plus arts, music, smaller class sizes, and a move away from test-centered student curriculum.

They also want a school board that is made more accessible by moving meetings to the evenings so more parents can attend.

"We also believe that a better school starts with a better school board," said Jeanette Smith, an activist and parent leader.

"I'm challenging CEO Brizard and our mayor to come out to our communities to listen to what we have to say," said Angela Williams of Parents for an Educated Nation.

"The teachers union does not want to have its members work longer hours without more pay," said Catalyst magazine publisher Linda lenz. "Sure, these test scores are flat, but it speaks to more than the amount of time kids are in class, but it also speaks to the kind of instruction they get."

The teachers union and supporters say they will continue to be outspoken and will schedule town hall meetings throughout the city where parents can have input on what goes on in their public schools. They are school officials attend these meetings.

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