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Already? Charter school students head back to school

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Already? Charter school students head back to school

WBEZ/Linda Lutton

Children pushed new yellow pencils into sharpeners, and a few kindergartners shed tears after their parents left them Monday, the first day of school for more than 5,000 charter school students in Chicago.

School officials used the early return to school at the charters to again call for a longer school year throughout Chicago Public Schools.

Schools chief Jean-Claude Brizard rang a ceremonial bell this morning at UNO’s Veterans Memorial Campus to launch the school year there. UNO’s school year is 20 days longer than the school year in traditional Chicago Public Schools.

“So 190 days! Hopefully very soon we’ll be able to benchmark what you are doing here at UNO,” Brizard told parents and students.

Brizard said he hopes negotiations slated to begin Monday afternoon with unions will lead to a longer school year districtwide.

“Today we’re actually having a pretty long discussion with the CTU about how to operationalize this…. We’ve made it no secret that the school year we have is way too short, the school day that we have is way too short, so we’re going to make this happen as quickly as we can.”

UNO is adding more days to its school calendar this year by converting teacher professional development days to normal class days. Administrators say teachers will be given real-time mentoring and professional development as they teach.

Parent Laura Aguilar dropped two of her children off at UNO this morning. Aguilar said they were excited to go back. “For them, four weeks of vacation—that was enough.”

By her side was her nine-year-old daughter, who attends a Chicago public school for gifted students. She still has another month off school.

“Three days a week she’s in a library program,” said her mom. “We’ll see—four more weeks.”

LEARN charter schools also began classes Monday. Their school year is 197 days, 27 days longer than district-run schools.

A WBEZ analysis of 2010 test scores showed longer school days and longer school years common at charter schools do not necessarily guarantee better test scores. The Chicago News Cooperative found charter schools’ test score gains on the most recent round of state ISAT tests were not as large on average as gains made by traditional neighborhood schools.

Nearly 250 Chicago public schools on the “Track E” calendar start their new school year next Monday. Those traditional schools are trying to combat summer learning loss by beginning earlier, but there are no additional school days in their year. Instead, breaks are scattered throughout the year.

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