January 24, 2012

Urban Education Institute wades into debate on school-days

A new branch of the U of C Urban Education Institute is examining how an extended school day affects students.

The study, conducted by the Urban Education Lab (UEL), focuses on 39 charter schools that implemented a longer school day this January. UEL will also work with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to see how the policy would work citywide, according to a University statement about the study.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the study on January 9 with CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard while touring Benjamin E. Mays Academy, an elementary school that has extended its school day by 90 minutes. Emanuel said that the new program would allow students to get more out of time spent in the classroom.

“By attending a school with a full school day, the children at Mays Elementary and Melody Elementary are no longer being shortchanged and instead will spend more time receiving instruction and focusing on learning, and ultimately receiving the education they deserve,” Emanuel said in the statement.

Jens Ludwig, a co-director of the UEL and professor at Social Service Administration and the Harris School of Public Policy, said that the goal of the study was to make sure the extended school hours were benefiting students.

“We think that a large part of the problem in education policy has not been lack of innovation, but rather lack of feedback about which innovations are actually useful as we hope, and which ones aren't,” Ludwig said.

Ludwig added that the UEL is also working on a number of other studies looking at how to improve CPS. He said that the program’s main projects focus on how to reduce the dropout rate by examining chronic truancy, how to make better use of technology in schools with high-risk students, and improving college attendance and graduation rates.

A poll conducted by the Chicago Teachers Union last September found that 70 percent of voters supported a longer school day, the Chicago Tribune reported. Approximately the same percentage of voters believed that teachers should be paid more if school hours were increased.