Three years ago, Chicago's Mayor Richard M. Daley tried to negotiate with the teachers union to extend the school day by 45 minutes. (Chicago kids have one of the shortest school days in the country.)
After those talks fell apart, Daley moved on to Plan B: A mandatory extended day program where kids take online supplemental classes in reading and math, guided by non-union facilitators. And, just as a little screw you, the new plan calls for a 90-minute extension. A pilot will take place at 15 elementary schools and be mandatory for first through eighth graders.
Suddenly, teachers union officials are speaking out about their concerns that kids might not love being stuck in classrooms for hours on end with indifferent instruction:
"When the kids are tired and they want to go home and they don't want to do this any more, what happens? I'm a little concerned about how this plays out over an entire year," said union president Karen Lewis.
"To sit a kid at a computer for an extra hour—I want to make sure it's not drill-and-kill and that the so-called 'facilitators' know what they're doing. Or is this yet another way to get around our contract?" Lewis said. "They keep trying to ding us every other way they can. Is this just another way to do education on the cheap?"
To answer those questions: Yep and yep.
I've expressed my skepticism elsewhere about the value of extending the school day in schools that really aren't very good. More of a bad thing doesn't make it into a good thing. But this idea is appealing, mostly because it has the kind of flexibility that other attempts at school reform rarely enjoy: If the online classes don't work out, Daley can kill the program, try a new online ed provider, of just turn the whole thing into daycare. And if he hits the jackpot and kids love the online ed and/or scores improve dramatically, he can expand the program. And trying to use commerical online solutions to provide high quality education more cheaply isn't a bad thing.
I've written about the touchy relationship between online education and teachers unions here.
Via reader Chris Sengenberger.