“New ERA” or 90 more minutes of test prep?

Look out, parents – be careful what you wish for.

First, Rahm gathered the Coalition of the Willing Clergy and exhorted them to preach from the pulpit about the need for 90 more minutes in the school day. Now the mayor is urging parents to jump on his 90-more-minute bandwagon.

Well, those of us who would actually like to see a longer day at some point had to be worried – but not surprised – to read this comment from CPS CEO J. C. Brizard tucked into a Sun-Times article yesterday about the “new era” in Chicago Public Schools under Mayor Emanuel:

Brizard said principals will “get guidance” about using the 90 minutes, and, if their school is academically successful, they may choose to spend it in enrichment activities, such as music, art and physical education. But if it’s struggling in math and reading it should expand math and reading, he said…. “I believe in autonomy, but I believe in bounded autonomy,” Brizard said.

We had been told that Brizard was going to look at best practices in the city and nationwide. He had assembled a distinguished panel of experts to help, and in addition, CPS was supposedly going to work with parents, teachers and principals through focus groups to gain feedback on how the school day should be structured.

Now it seems that the CEO has already decided how the 90 minutes will be used, and in doing so he’s displaying the ignorance of basic education theory so typical of the corporate education “reformers” who, like Brizard, got their marching orders at the Broad Foundation administrators boot camp.

It’s simply not true that struggling students will do better if they are drilled more. It’s simply not sound to wait to “graduate” students to enrichment activities only after they have “mastered the basics.”

In fact, well-planned enrichment activities integrated into a high-quality curriculum actually work better in improving academic outcomes than test prep. That was proven here in Chicago – Brizard can look it up, or better yet, talk to the guy from the University of Chicago who is supposedly advising him about this.

The conclusion of a 2001 U of Chicago Consortium study? According to the executive summary, “Our findings call into serious question the assumption that low-achieving, economically disadvantaged students are best served by teaching that emphasizes didactic methods and review.”

According to FairTest, “(H)igh-stakes testing is far more likely to lower the quality of curriculum, instruction and school climate in schools serving children of color: Facing high-stakes test-based accountability under NCLB and state laws, schools narrow curriculum by reducing or dropping untested subjects. The law promotes teaching to the mostly multiple-choice state tests, focusing one-sidedly on rote skills and ignoring higher-level thinking.”

I believe that most parents think an extended school day will mean more art, music, physical activity, and other such  programs that have been taken away from our students during the course of the NCLB era. Better watch out, parents. 

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.