VIVA Chicago Project: Time, Teachers, and Tomorrow’s Schools

VIVA Chicago Report Cover ImageOn Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, members of The VIVA Chicago Teachers Idea Exchange Writing Collaborative presented their report, Time, Teachers and Tomorrow’s Schools, to Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard. On Dec. 13, 2011, they met with Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis to discuss their recommendations.

Download Full Report as a PDF

Executive Summary

As CPS struggles with ways to raise achievement among all of its 435,000 students, we believe an increase in the amount of time spent in school is one answer, but it is not the sole answer. This report includes 49 recommendations for better uses of time in school. Among them:

  • Use whatever time we have with students more efficiently, from improving learning by ensuring our youngest students have time for free play to using alternative methods of discipline that focus on treating the root causes of disruptive behavior to ensure students continue learning.
  • Change the systemwide mentality from one that says more time spent focusing on math and language skills is the only way to raise test scores to one that accepts that core instruction for all students is bolstered by non-core instruction, physical education and recess.
  • Get rid of the inefficiencies that plague the system, exhaust teachers and take valuable time away from instruction.
  • Understand that technology, while expensive, can pay for itself many times over in terms of the increased efficiencies it offers as well as its potential to excite students, keep them in school and allow them to graduate more prepared for life in the 21st century.
  • Look for additional ways to increase time in school, including making school holidays such as Pulaski Day attendance days.
  • Recruit community organizations to support and supplement instruction in school as well as after school.

What an ideal elementary school week should look like
We realize that the length of the 2012-2013 school day is not yet set in stone. For the purpose of making these recommendations, we have assumed that 90 minutes will be added to the current elementary school day, giving students 450 minutes on campus per day (including noninstructional time), for a total of 2,250 minutes per week.

The charts on page 7 of the full report include suggested time allotments for language arts, math, science, social studies, art, music, physical education, library or technology, lunch and recess. Two things are missing from our charts: world languages and teacher prep/common planning time. We chose not to include world languages because we believe the choice to offer students a foreign language should be left to individual schools. Since foreign language instruction includes reading, writing, spelling, speaking and listening, schools that choose to offer a world language curriculum should be free to devote a portion of their language arts minutes to foreign language instruction. As for teacher prep/common planning, it is not included in this chart because it is not direct instructional time. Students will continue to learn—albeit under the supervision of a “specials” teacher, playground manager or cafeteria worker during the expanded time devoted to non-core instruction in our recommended time allotment. Meanwhile, their regular classroom teachers will work together as education professionals to plan the best strategies for teaching their students.

Recommendations included in this report:

Common planning time is so critical to the success of students and school communities that we recommend all teachers meet:

  • At least once a week for 40 minutes to discuss curriculum development.
  • At least once a month for 40 minutes to discuss assessment.
  • At least twice a quarter for 40 minutes each session (progress reports and report cards) to discuss student growth, analyze data and make decisions based on that data.

In addition, special and general education teaching partners should meet for a minimum of 15 minutes daily before student arrival to discuss daily activities and goals, and should meet once a week for at least 60 minutes to co-plan. The charts on the following page show the percentage of total weekly time that we believe should be spent in each content area. This information is not listed on the current CPS chart, but as teachers we found it very useful to quantify and visualize the “balance” of the curriculum for each group of grade levels.

  • Time allotments are suggested for groups of grade levels rather than having different allotments for each grade. This makes it easier for schools to implement consistent schedules, and increases the likelihood that schools will actually meet the targeted time allotments and teachers will have the common planning time they need.
  • Language arts minutes are increased for grades 3 – 8, from an average of 585 minutes per week to an average of 607 minutes per week.
  • Math minutes are almost doubled for all grades, increasing from an average of 252 minutes per week to 450 minutes per week.
  • Social studies and science minutes are more than doubled in the primary grades, from an average of 82 minutes for these subjects in the current schedule to 180 minutes per week. In grades 3 – 8 they increase from the current average of 181 minutes to an average of 259 minutes.
  • Art and music minutes are increased from an average of 60 minutes per week to 90 minutes per week in all grades.
  • Physical education minutes are more than doubled for all grades, increasing from an average of 71 minutes per week on the current schedule to 180 minutes per week for all grades.
  • Lunch is allocated 25 minutes per day.
  • Recess is allocated 20 minutes per day.

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