Duncan Backs Longer Chicago School Days

Chicago's former public schools chief returned home Friday to help Mayor Rahm Emanuel push for a longer school day.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said he supports a 90-minute longer day and said leadership is coming together to make positive change for students.

"I couldn't be more hopeful on the state side, on the local side here in the city," he said during an afternoon panel discussion with Emanuel, Gov. Pat Quinn, schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard and State Sen. Kimberly Lightford.

"You have a moment of opportunity, and I hope you grasp it, and I hope you understand the sort of fork in the road you're at. These are tough economic times. They're not easy, but from the governor to the state board, to the mayor, to the superintendent to the state legislator, to the unions, to the business community, folks are coming together in a way that I think can transform public education."

He joked that he predicated Brizard would be a better superintendent for the system than he ever was.

Duncan pointed to President Barack Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress on Thursday, which included a call for significant investments in education.

Specifically, he said the plan would give Illinois $1.24 billion for teachers, or enough to fund 14,500 teaching jobs. Another $1 billion could come to the state for capital improvements. CPS could see $609 million for the renovation and rehabilitation of school buildings, he said.

Duncan told the Chicago Sun-Times he wishes he could have lengthened the day when he was in office but said the system didn't have the money. He also said the city deserves a "badge of shame" for its current amount of instructional time.

Not everyone is in love with a fast-tracked longer day, though.

Emanuel has encouraged schools to vote in favor of the extra 90 minutes, even offering them extra money to shoulder the change. But the Chicago Teachers Union wants the school board to slow down and properly plan for what those additional minutes mean for students.

"Our concern is about quality not quantity," the union said in a statement Thursday. "We do not want our teachers and paraprofessionals coerced and bullied into signing away their contractual rights in order to get the resources they sorely need."

The City Council on Thursday called the union the bully, saying it's keeping schools from approving a measure that could improve test scores and help kids.

"Send a message to the union," said Ald. George Cardenas (12th), one of many aldermen who stood in support of the longer day. "The union is holding them back [with] scare tactics."

Still, Ald. Scott Waugespack (32nd) said "teachers should get paid." And Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) wants to ensure the extra minutes be filled with instruction.

Duncan will put in his two cents at Carl Schurz High School, where he visits a classroom and talks with local leaders in a panel discussion. The visit marks the end of his three-day “Education and the Economy” back-to-school bus tour, which stopped in five other Midwest cities. 

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