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posted: 5/20/2014 5:01 AM

Editorial: School district's decision on hours reasonable

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It's no wonder parents in Elk Grove Township Elementary District 59 do a happy dance when their child is chosen, by lottery, to attend Ridge Family Center for Learning.

The district's school of choice has a "balanced calendar" -- the closest thing to a truly year-round school and therefore less need for repetition as students are promoted. It has good test scores and a "family within the school" concept, grouping children of different ages as "families," who talk, help each other and socialize.

What also sets Ridge apart is an 8-hour school day four days a week and a 6.5-hour day on Wednesdays, for K-5 students. This gives Ridge families a leg up two ways: Research shows that longer school days make for better learning, and because school hours correspond more closely to a parent's work schedule that means less costly day care and fewer children coming home to empty houses.

So, nobody can blame Ridge parents for objecting that next fall, Ridge and every other elementary school in District 59 will have the same school day -- 6 hours, 50 minutes. Ridge will lose 70 minutes out of each day, while the other schools will gain minutes.

The change was driven by cost, but Ridge parents are disappointed and angry. They believe the extra class time benefits their kids, they like how the schedule fits their own needs, and they feel District 59 is pulling a bait and switch for not delivering on the deal they signed up for.

We sympathize with their arguments, and the complaint that the administration brought this up and pushed it through the school board pretty quickly.

But we can't really argue with the outcome.

Ridge has been blessed with extra instructional time all these years not by intention, but due to the bus schedule. Because Ridge students come from all over the 25-square-mile district, buses go far and wide to collect them and then take them home. It's been easier to let the buses pick up Ridge students first in the morning and last at night, hence the 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule.

We sampled other suburban districts -- including some of the top-scoring ones in Illinois. The average elementary school day in Naperville, Arlington Heights, Schaumburg, Elgin, Buffalo Grove and Glenview is between 6 hours and 6 hours, 35 minutes, most every day. Clearly, then, District 59's 6-hour, 50-minute, day will still be longer than most. (The Illinois school code says a school day must be at least 5 hours.)

But there's a fairness issue here, too. Children get into Ridge by lottery, not by the strength of their academic gifts. By boosting class time in every other elementary school District 59 is saying it invests in all of its kids.

Ridge parents aren't wrong to demand the best for their kids, and it's disappointing the perk they became accustomed to had to be taken away. But given the choices, we think District 59 has made an equitable decision and a reasonable compromise.

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