The drumbeat from CTU and other CPS critics is already pretty clear: oppose any and all school closings, and push for an elected school board instead of the current system of mayoral control. The drumbeat from the reformy right isn't quite as clear, but seems to include closing schools and opening more charters and bringing in lots of new teachers. However, I would argue that both agendas are impractical, misguided, self-serving, and do little more than set Chicago up for more clashes and more stalemates. What other things could CPS and CTU and the rest of us focus on? I have a couple of ideas -- and maybe you do, too.Let's start out by debunking the CTU agenda of opposing closings and pushing for mayoral control:
CLOSINGS: Reasonable people can argue about the number of schools that need to be closed, and which ones, but it seems hard to argue that the system can support as many buildings as it currently has, considering the dwindling enrollment, etc. Arguments about transparency, gang boundaries and disruptions only go so far, especially if the schools being closed or consolidated aren't performing particularly well. That won't stop CTU and those directly affected from clamoring, but that doesn't mean they're right.
ELECTED BOARD: A return to an elected school board is a great rhetorical device for CTU and other CPS critics but seems like a ridiculous thing to want in this era of uncontrolled campaign spending. Groups spent something like $5 million on two board spots in Los Angeles in 2011. Outside spending swamped direct contributions. Both sides went extremely negative. Turnout was still very low. Imagine what school board races would be like.
The reform agenda -- at least the cutting edge of it -- seems equally problematic:
CHARTERS: Thus far, at least, few if any of the successful national charter networks have been willing to come to Chicago. They don't believe in Emanuel. After the strike, even more so. There aren't enough school leaders or homegrown groups to start mom and pop charters with any chance of success. Chicago's in-district authorization process is slow and cumbersome, and its state appeals board is untested.
NEW TALENT: There are something like 500 TFA teachers in CPS, plus 800 alumni, and AUSL folks and TNTP and all the rest. But, as with charters, it's a drop in the bucket -- a bucket that's got a big hole in it because of new teacher attrition. As Harvard economist Roland Fryer recently pointed out, there's no "magical drawer" full of effective teachers to draw from to replace teachers deemed ineffective.
CPS-CTU LEADERSHIP COMMITTEE: If CTU wants to help make CPS better, fine. With power comes responsibility.Give Team Lewis a chance to provide input on the schedule, the budget, and the closings ahead of time, rather than freezing them out and then having them clamor against whatever decisions have been made. Testing schedule? Common Core training? Yes, and yes.
UNIFIED APPLICATION PROCESS: If charters don't trust CPS to handle the process, bring in someone who will. Roll it out for high schools first, if that helps. The current process is a maze, a frustration, and a bit of an embarrassment. Charter approval and renewal should include participation in the unified application process as a prerequisite.
NEW, IMPROVED AAMPS: For a time in CPS there was a subset of schools that were given greater leeway from CPS mandates based on proven performance. It wasn't perfect -- far from it -- but it was too good an idea to abandon. Loosening the reins on some subset of higher performing schools is both a reward for schools that bring achievement up and a relief to schools where centralized control isn't necessary.
GENTRIFYING NEIGHBORHOODS: The vast majority of CPS and foundation resources are focused on the lowest-performing schools, leaving middle-performing schools in the lurch. In gentrifying neighborhoods particularly, there's a completely predictable but unnecessary clash between longtime residents and teachers and newcomers ("gentriphobia," one pundit calls it). A small team helping manage this process at a few schools would be enormously helpful.