My child is not yet three years old. Recently, my wife attempted to warm me up to the concept that we will have to pay application fees (potentially nonrefundable) to apply for a spot in a good preschool. So after taking time to research schools, tour the schools and send in applications on behalf of a three year old, my wife and I will have to write checks and cross our fingers.
Whereas in many suburban communities, children just strap on their backpack and walk to the public school down the street. There is little, if any, jockeying for position in a preschool, elementary or high school class; students in the suburbs just show up.
Until city school children can walk to their neighborhood school and be confident of a good public school education, without parents having to wiggle children into a slot in a magnet school, then Chicago’s public school system is broken.
We should not be satisfied with our schools until we can just send our children to the school down the street.
Reader "JohnM3" commented recently about Chicagoans having to ask ourselves hard questions regarding our schools. He said:
The Mayor will not have been successful fixing the schools until he and other parents with the means to afford alternatives are comfortable sending their kids to their nearest neighborhood school. In the city, it seems that unless you can get your kids into an elite magnet school, you have to pay for private or parochial school. I do not think that is the case in most suburbs.
Let's ask the hard questions:
1. Should we let students go to school outside of their own neighborhood?
2. Should we put resources into elite magnet schools or phase them out and push those resources to neighborhood schools.
3. Should we add a year to elementary school and a year to high school to allow time for students to be able to learn the increasingly complex skills needed to be prepared for life?
4. Should we work closely with industry to devise a quality vocational program or focus more on college prep.
5. Should we identify and remove discipline problems from schools (and segregate into specialized schools) so that teachers can focus more on teaching rather than policing?
6. Should we give paperback textbooks to students that they can write in and retain after the school year rather than try to reuse hardcover books?
7. Should we go to a system where students citywide watch the same class via video and classroom teachers focus on assisting individual students?
8. Should we institute tracking so that all students are at close to the same level in a class. Set performance based standards rather than age or time to allow advancement. Allow for students to spend extra years if needed to attain a high school level of achievement rather than let them drop out or receive a debased diploma for hanging in for 12 years?
9. Should we require school uniforms across all grades and all schools?
We should not accept that city schools should be inferior to suburban schools on average. That does not serve the interests of the entire metro area and is one of the most critical problems we need to address in the Chicago area.
I don’t know the answers to these questions. My wife and I are frustrated seeking the answers. Is moving to the suburbs the easiest option? That option certainly doesn't solve-- or even address-- the problem. Until Chicago children are able to walk down the street and get a quality education, I think we are obligated to keep asking why that is not happening.
I had a spirited debate on Facebook a couple weeks back regarding who is ultimately responsible for educating children. Ultimately, it is all of our responsibility to ensure our children receive a good education. First, we are responsible for our own children. But we are also responsible for the children around us. And we should want that because the better education our children receive, the better communities we live in.
I have heard a lot about what our schools need from leaders with ideas-- be it Mayor Emanuel, Jean-Claude Brizard or Karen Lewis. I have not heard from teachers. They should have input on what they need to make their jobs easier. Are there too many bad apple teachers? Are there too many bad apple students? Does Chicago lose good teachers because of the pay scale? Are parents involved? What are the problems?
I have had the opportunity to read positions of our leaders on-line and in newspapers, but I think we need to hear from teachers. Let’s have a conversation. If you are a Chicago Public School teacher and interested in getting together for brunch and discussion on what needs to happen to make our schools better, I’ll buy brunch and write about your thoughts. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested. Your comments at brunch will remain anonymous. We’ve heard a lot from John-Claude Brizard, Mayor Emanuel and Karen Lewis– we should hear from you. You’re in the classroom– how can you be more effective?
Please email me if you’re interested in telling us all how you can be more effective.
(Additionally, since I don’t have a city checkbook from before they actually kept track of the balance (or Mayor Emanuel’s), I unfortunately will have to limit the amount of attendees to roughly a dozen.)