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Research: Chicago public school teachers log long hours

Robert Bruno
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L. Brian Stauffer

The claim that Chicago public school teachers aren’t working enough hours during the school day are unwarranted at best and intellectually dishonest at worst, according to research from University of Illinois labor expert Robert Bruno.

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4/9/2012 | Phil Ciciora, Business & Law Editor | 217-333-2177; pciciora@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The claim that Chicago public school teachers aren’t working enough hours during the school day is unwarranted at best and intellectually dishonest at worst, according to research from a University of Illinois labor expert.

The contentious debate between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis over the length of the school day has focused on Chicago public schools having the shortest official day of any major city – five hours and 45 minutes for elementary school students, and six hours and 45 minutes for high school students. But Robert Bruno, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois, says when you account for time outside of the contractually obligated instruction, a teacher’s day is almost twice as long.

“We wanted to show just how long, and just how many actual working hours, are involved in being a K-12 teacher in the Chicago Public School system,” Bruno said. “What we found is that teachers are spending almost 10-plus hours per day at the school, and then putting in roughly another two hours at home. So their workday is absolutely not five hours and 45 minutes but almost twice that – and that’s not even including weekends.”

Bruno, along with Steven Ashby, a professor of labor and employment relations at Illinois, and Frank Manzo IV, a research assistant and graduate student at the University of Chicago, are co-authors of a paper that surveyed 983 Chicago Public School teachers. The study profiles a teacher’s standard school-day workload and the time they devote to the job.

The findings include:

  • Teachers work 58 hours per week on average during the school year.
  • Teachers work for 10 hours and 48 minutes on average during a standard school day, and spend almost an additional two hours working at home in the evening.
  • Teachers work another three hours and 45 minutes on school-related work over the weekend.

“It’s at minimum a 58-hour work week, which is more than 800 hours a year beyond what is contractually obligated,” Bruno said. “Teaching in a Chicago public school is well beyond a full-time job.”

Teachers also spend an average of 12 days during summer break doing at least one school-related activity, and an additional 30 hours of professional development training while the school year is not in session, according to the research.

The study also analyzes how teachers’ in-class hours are allocated.

“It’s a workload study, looking at activities, but also measuring time allocation, so people can see what really is a claim against teachers’ time,” Bruno said. “Everyone knows a teacher’s role goes beyond classroom instruction. We wanted to quantify how much beyond instruction that role extends.”

Other non-teaching duties that could be performed by a teacher’s aide – hall duty, bus duty, cafeteria and detention – also account for a significant portion of a teacher’s non-instructional time. According to the research, less than half the time in a day’s work is actually given to instruction. Teachers spend just over three hours each day performing non-teaching related activities, including behavioral management; speaking to students about a personal or family-related problem; communicating with parents; sorting data; setting up or taking down classrooms; and in meetings with administrators and planning with colleagues.

“The big issue is that there’s actually insufficient time given to classroom instruction,” Bruno said. “Too often teachers are working without support from teacher’s aides and other administrative personnel. As a result, much of the work imposed on a teacher draws from the time designed for reading, writing and math.”

The authors included several recommendations based on their findings:

  • Teachers should be the primary voice in determining how school time is used.
  • Teachers should be released from other non-instructional
    time-consuming duties while increasing the time spent on actual instruction.
  • Teachers should be given an appropriate increase in pay for any expansion of the official school day.

The results of the study suggest that Emanuel’s idea of adding another 90 minutes to the school day would not produce positive educational outcomes. In order for that to work, teachers would need more resources, Bruno says.

“For the teachers, the problem isn’t the length of the day,” he said. “The bigger question is, what are you actually going to do with the content of the day? A certain percentage of that is going to go toward behavioral management, emotional needs, handling data and paperwork. What are you going to end up with? Another 15 minutes of instruction? That’s not going to get you anywhere. You wouldn’t get a higher performance in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) subjects unless you dealt with things like the children’s emotional needs and behavioral management issues.”

According to Bruno, the study also draws from a field of research that looks at time-intensification in the labor process – how workers are forced to multi-task, what happens when they’re forced to rush to do work, and how they perform after more and more demands are placed upon them.

“The results are that they don’t perform at their highest level, and they certainly have higher levels of stress and burnout and job satisfaction,” he said. “So if you’re going to demand more of the teachers, you can’t do it by simply adding more minutes onto the day. It’s a much more complex issue.”

The burnout rate of public school teachers in Chicago is higher than usual, Bruno notes.

“The turnover rate is almost 50 percent of faculty within five years,” he said. “Nobody ever quite steps back and says, ‘What are we doing to these teachers in this five-year period that’s generating such turnover?’ One of the recommendations we make is for an examination of the impact of nearly 60-hour workweeks on teacher stress, creativity, job satisfaction and turnover.”

Editor's notes: To contact Robert Bruno, call 630-487-0013; email bbruno@illinois.edu.

The paper, “Beyond the Classroom: An Analysis of a Chicago Public School Teacher’s Actual Workday,” is available online.

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