A few facts about Chicago’s longer school days, years

Illinois law imposes a minimum school year of 176 attendance days, but most districts in Illinois provide a school-year calendar of 180 days, allowing for four snow days. Until recently, Chicago students had a calendar of 170 school days.

A deal about the number of student attendance days each year was negotiated before the strike: Mayor Rahm Emanuel increased the length of the school year to 180 days for students in Chicago Public Schools. This number is the national average.


As for the length of a school day in Chicago, that depends on whether you’re talking about elementary schools or high schools. The length of a school day for elementary schools in Chicago was 5 hours 45 minutes, including 20 minutes for lunch. The length of a high school student’s day varies, but the collective bargaining agreement that was in effect before the strike stated that high school students were required to have 367 minutes of instructional time per day, which comes to 6 hours 7 minutes.

If we multiply the number of instructional hours per day by the number of days per year, we find that Chicago Public Schools students had 920.8 instructional hours per year in elementary school and 1039.8 hours per year in high school before both factors changed in the new contract. Compare this with New York, the nation’s largest school district, where students have 910 instructional hours per year in elementary school and 995.5 instructional hours per year in high school; or with Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest school district, where students at all levels experience between 904 and 909 instructional hours per year.

The national average school day length for elementary schools is 6 hours 42 minutes for elementary schools, almost an hour longer than the average school day in Chicago, but this figure also includes time students spend at lunch and in recess. Chicago students have a very short lunch period and no recess periods during the day, which makes comparisons to national averages difficult. The national average for high schools is 6 hours 36 minutes, which makes Chicago’s day about a half hour shorter than the national average at the high school level, but if we add the 20 minutes Chicago’s high school students spend on lunch, the times are within nine minutes.

According to a deal made before the strike occurred, the length of the school day was increased for both elementary and high school students in Chicago. A total of 50 minutes was added to the high school day, but those minutes are to be used as a study hall, which will require no additional teaching (or monitoring) time from teachers. Students will simply be supervised, so this comes down as a win for the Chicago Teachers Union, despite Mr Emanuel’s push for a longer day.

A comparison with international data (PDF, 6 MB, see page 472ff) released two weeks ago by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reveals that the average number of instructional hours provided by teachers to US students per year for the 2009-10 school year was 1,097 hours for elementary school, 1,068 hours for lower secondary education, and 1,051 hours for upper secondary education. These national averages are all slightly higher than the Chicago numbers.

By comparison, schoolteachers in Finland provide an average of 680 instructional hours per year in elementary school, 595 hours per year for lower secondary education, and 553 hours per year for upper secondary education. The average instructional time in the 21 European Union countries identified in the OECD report was 748, 660, and 629 hours, respectively. Only Chile and Argentina showed more instructional time per year than the US.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.