By Madison Bratley
Controversy arose when Chicago Public Schools announced the five dates they had selected for making up time lost to the teacher strike, satisfying the agreement they reached with the Chicago Teachers Union last October. CPS chose November 27, the day before Thanksgiving, January 2 and 3, which were the final two days of winter break, and June 17 and 18, the first two days of summer vacation. These preliminary dates were announced on November 5 and approved by the Chicago Board of Education on November 20 — giving Payton families relatively short notice that any winter break vacations planned beforehand could be affected.
“I did have plans to stay up at my lake house with my family until the end of break,” Marshall Bennett ‘21 said. “However, we decided to come back early so me and my siblings could go to school.” He has plans to miss days later in the year for a religious event, and wanted to minimize the total number of school days he missed during the year.
Many students, however, did not make it back to school on January 2, leading to concerns about poor attendance rates. “When I first heard that we would have school on January 2 and 3, I was disappointed,” John Bouman ‘21 said. “I was pretty sure there wouldn’t be many teachers or students in attendance, which annoyed me because I knew my parents would make me go anyway.” Ultimately, 60.59% of Payton students attended school on January 2 and 62.07% attended on January 3, according to school attendance data. Overall, the Chicago Tribune reports that of all CPS students, 63% attended on January 2 and 67% attended on January 3. By contrast, WTTW reports that the average daily attendance rate for CPS students is 93% during the regular school year, although it drops a bit around holidays — for instance, to 89% the Friday before Memorial Day. Low attendance rates have the potential to decrease numerous schools’ quality ratings by one level, since 10% of a high school’s and 20% of an elementary school’s rating comes from daily attendance averages. A decrease in a school’s quality rating would impact its funding. But according to Mr. Devine, CPS stated they would assess attendance rates on the makeup days and determine from there if those attendance ratings will affect SQRP ratings, and principals “have not been told” that attendance on makeup days will impact funding.
Some teachers were not thrilled with the makeup days announcement, either. “I think when we first learned about it there was probably a collective groan,” Mr. Kevin Wasielewski, who teaches Drama and AP English Language, said. The makeup days inconvienced the teachers not only because they took days away from winter break, but also because taking away those days posed a unique challenge for the teachers responsible for creating those days’ lesson plans. “We knew, or suspected, that students would still be traveling, or maybe taking a day or two. So we didn’t want to just dive right back into the curriculum,” he said. “But we also didn’t want to just put a movie on. We did want to make sure that we were designing something useful.”
For Honors Biology and Astronomy, the makeup days became field trips to the Field Museum and Adler Planetarium. “I was trying to think about what would be a useful way to spend that time and not just have it a waste,” said Ms. Jacqueline Barge, who is one of the Honors Biology teachers and the only Astronomy teacher. “I just didn’t want to be watching a movie or not doing something significant, but then again you can’t punish the people that are on trips because some of those have been planned for a long time.” She also said Honors Biology missed a field trip to the Lincoln Park Zoo during the strike, and the two makeup days provided a window to partially recover that experience.
“With field trips sometimes you learn something new, but often you’re extending your experience with an idea or a concept in a way that you don’t get to do in class,” she said. “You might be interacting with different materials, like in the Field Museum, kids were able to go in and see Lucy. We had talked about her, but we didn’t see her skeleton in 3D or a model of her.” Lucy is among the oldest hominid fossils ever discovered. Honors Biology classes began learning about hominids, a primate family including humans and their ancestors, before the field trip was planned.
“In class we spoke about Lucy and her evolution to current Homo sapiens,” said Niko Vasilopolous ‘21, a student in Honors Biology. “But it is different seeing it in person, and being able to note the distinct features and differences between Lucy and ourselves.” He found it interesting how various hominid traits evolved at different speeds into traits humans possess today. “Some features developed more quickly, like the upright standing and walking position,” he noted, “while other aspects such as the brain size and height took longer to evolve.”
For other teachers, particularly those in the math department, January 2 and 3 were treated similarly to how the first days back from a break would normally be handled. “We tried to make it so that it was meaningful for the students who came to school and also not terrible if you weren’t able to come,” said Ms. Kari Bridgeland, who teaches Precalculus AB and Precalculus BC. “The first day back from break is always going to be a review day, and like a little bit of a ‘where am I?’”
But some students claim the makeup days were not meaningful. “It was definitely a waste of my time to come Thursday,” said Madeline Treuthart ‘22. “Anything productive I did in class was either posted on Google Classroom and I could have done it at home, or would have been really easy to make up on Monday.”
Other students say the days became more tedious and frustrating as they digitally interacted with the kids who missed school. “Getting [Snapchats] from people waking up at 12 while I had already been at school for four hours kinda stunk. The whole day felt pretty pointless — I don’t remember learning anything and kinda just played Words With Friends on my phone all day,” Bouman said. “It’s ironic to me that January 2 and 3 counted as ‘days of instruction made up.’ There wasn’t a lot of instruction going on. The teachers fought very hard to get days of the strike made up but when many students don’t show up, and when not all teachers teach as much as they would on other days, it kinda leaves me wondering, ‘what was the point?’”
But the makeup days did serve some purpose. “We lost five blue and orange days each,” Ms. Bridgeland said. “I really think that having the opportunity to learn one more day’s worth of material, or lose one fewer day of material, is really better than not.”
The makeup days also served a purpose beyond recovering instructional time. Teachers are paid for each day of attendance, according to Ms. Barge. “That was a lot of pay that we lost, almost a full paycheck,” she said. While teachers recovered some of their missed pay on the makeup days, the days were likely not as effective at recuperating CPS’ lost state funding. “[CPS] didn’t get as much [money] as [they] normally would get because we had so many [students] absent,” Ms. Barge said. On the other hand, CPS claims to have saved $68 million by not making up the remaining six days of the teacher strike. Although the strike lasted 11 school days, the Chicago Teachers Union ultimately agreed on five makeup days in a compromise with the district.
Some teachers feel that CPS’ chosen makeup days were not very conducive to productive learning. “The way that the days have been made up aren’t necessarily the most effective way in terms of catching up on curriculum,” Mr. Wasielewski said. “We’ve had three days now made up, [and] all three of them are sort of adjacent to breaks.” CPS claims their scheduling options were severely limited since they could only select days where teachers would otherwise not be paid. Moreover, the Chicago Tribune reports that CPS did not want to extend the end of the school year into another week. CTU claims CPS could have moved professional development days to the end of the school year to create room for makeup days before taking days from winter break.
January 2 and 3 were the first days back from winter break, so it would be out of the ordinary for them to not be at least a little sluggish. “I think that it wasn’t as productive as a typical day,” said Ms. Bridgeland. “But being the first day back from break it was going to be a weird day no matter what.”