Why New York City isn't joining Chicago in extended-day uproar

New Yorkers following Chicago’s snowballing union-district standoff over plans to extend the school day may not realize that similar conversations take place inside city schools every year.

Chicago’s new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and his schools chief, former New York City deputy Jean-Claude Brizard, are pushing schools to add 90 minutes to their 5-hour-long days, among the shortest in the nation. But they have offered teachers only 2 percent more pay, raising the ire of the teachers union, whose president, Karen Lewis, has said Emanuel is creating “a nightmare” by asking union members to override their union contract.

Even though the union has filed a lawsuit over the plan, Emanuel and Brizard decided to shop the proposal school by school, and teachers at at least nine schools have voted to extend their working hours—and the instructional day. The city and the teachers union send out warring press releases each time another school takes a vote.

Staff at New York City schools routinely take similar votes, but with less fanfare. There has been no system-wide push for a longer school day in years, and educators do not foresee a Chicago-style showdown repeating in New York.

That’s in part because the average New York City school day is already much longer than Chicago’s, and slightly longer than other major cities’, with many students in school for 6.5 hours or more. In addition, the district already struck a flexible deal with the union five years ago to extend the school day by 37.5 minutes four days a week for at least 290,000 city students, mostly those who struggle academically. How that time is spent is, to a large degree, up to each school.

Researchers say it is almost impossible to make a good estimate of the length of the New York City school day—something that one Chicago columnist found last week when he tried to tally the numbers—because instructional time requirements vary by grade-level and subject, and principals and teachers can decide together how they want to structure parts of the school day. 

Researchers tracking the length of the school day in major cities for National Center on Time and Learning were not able to do so for New York City because the system is decentralized and the facts vary greatly from school to school, according to a Blair Brown, a spokeswoman.

The system’s decentralization means that city schools have a high degree of individual decision-making power over how to divide that time and whether or not to add more, either by bringing after-school programming to the school via independent community organizations or getting creative with teachers’ schedules.

The local decisions are made possible by a clause in the teachers contract that allows a “school-based option” on scheduling and other matters: Schools can lengthen or rearrange their days if 55 percent of their staff vote yes.

In 2006, school-based decision-making about time got a boost when the city and teachers union agreed on a plan to extend the day by 37.5 minutes — for teachers and small groups of struggling students. The new time was rolled out differently at different schools, with many adding a period to the end of the day but some integrating it into the day or making the extra time mandatory for all students. Other schools started to let teachers use the time to plan lessons after former chancellor Joel Klein told them they could.

“There are creative models that schools even within the union agreement are expanding time and seeing union results and doing it within the budget,” said Jennifer Davis, president of the National Center on Time and Learning, which advocates for longer school days. “Why aren’t more schools doing that? Because there has to be a leadership commitment to really putting that issue on the table.”

Brown cited Brooklyn’s Generation School in Canarsie as one district high school that keeps its students in class longer by deviating from the norm. It has added extra minutes to its school day and 20 extra days to its school year by staggering teachers’ schedules and vacation periods to have them working no more than 180 days.

At the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, for the past six years teachers have voted for school periods to last 65 minutes—about 20 minutes longer than the typical city class period, according to Brett Kimmel, the school’s principal. But to keep the school day running on schedule, he has eliminated passing periods—the time between class periods that students usually use to traverse the halls or pick up more school supplies.

“Some schools will say class ends at 9:05 and the next class begins at 9:10. We don’t do that,” he said. “Our kids are organized so that they get up and go right across the hall to the next classroom, and that class begins very efficiently.”

In many cases, schools will lengthen the day beyond five periods by hiring outside organizations to teach extra-curricular classes such as drama, music and sports.

That’s where nonprofit groups like the After School Corporation fit into the picture.

“The new chancellor hasn’t made that policy that every school should have a longer school day, but I do think there is a general support and momentum growing for it,” sad Lucy Friedman, president of The After-School Corporation, which operates programs in 16 city schools.

She said the cost of after-school programming is still a main barrier for some schools, even though New York has the largest municipal funding for extended day programming.

To cut costs, Friedman said TASC tries to promote collaboration between after school programming providers and the educators who work in those schools during the academic school day. At Thurgood Marshall lower school, for example, students can chose to stay in class until 5:15 or later after their last academic period ends by taking organized drama, dance, creative writing and sports classes as well as a homework-tutoring class—subjects that some schools would chose to hire full-time teachers for if they had the funds.

“There’s a growing recognition that six hours a day isn’t going to prepare kids for life, for being career and college ready,” Friedman said.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”