Mayor of Chicago and Time to Succeed featured signatory Rahm Emanuel, reminded us yesterday that we can’t shy away from reforming Chicago schools. When Chicago’s schools came back in session last week, students returned to a new day in Chicago Public Schools. Here at TSC we understand that change can be difficult. However, Mayor Emanuel reminds us that if we are sincere about our desire to provide every student in every community with a world-class education, we cannot shy away from the reform students both need and deserve. 

The blame that reformers place on teachers for poor performance in many schools can be counterproductive and misguided. Failing to appreciate the dedication of teachers and the depth of students’ needs creates unnecessary distrust where a shared mission is required. Union leaders also must understand that simply decrying those difficulties, as if nothing can be done, also is unacceptable. We cannot consign children, no matter the scope of their difficulties, to a second-class future. Demographics are not destiny.

More than a dozen studies have shown that students from disadvantaged backgrounds benefit from additional classroom time with a quality teacher. That’s why I have been eager to adopt a full school day and full school year plan.

Long before I became mayor, 15 schools in neighborhoods across Chicago extended their day. Students at these schools score 20 percent higher on their Illinois Standards Achievement Tests than children who have not had the extra time. At public schools like Carson, Inter-American and Peterson, where a majority of the students come from low-income or minority backgrounds, students outperform their peers who haven’t had the full day. Though the academic success of students benefiting from a longer day has been plain to see, giving all students a full day of learning has been difficult to achieve. In three separate teacher contract negotiations, with different mayors and union leadership, this reform was met with stiff opposition. That’s just unacceptable.

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