Fixing Chicago schools should be a priority– the teachers’ strike seeks to maintain the status quo

Fixing Chicago schools should be a priority– the teachers’ strike seeks to maintain the status quo

Below is something I posted in September 2011. A year later, very few questions on how to make the system better have been answered– today, teachers are concerned about evaluations, with the union being more concerned about keeping the status quo rather than fixing as product that clearly needs fixing. How come the dropout rate is so high? Are Chicago Public School children ready for college? Anecdotally, why do many college educated Chicagoans flee for the suburbs once their children are ready for elementary school?

In an excellent article on today’s Chicago Tribune Commentary page, Bruce Rauner, board member of Chicago Public Education Fund wrote:

Let's recognize the CTU strike for what it is. Plain and simple, it is about the union's drive to protect Chicago's incompetent teachers at the expense of students and good teachers. We must not be fooled by the rhetoric that teachers are striking in the interest of students. Baloney. This strike is about protecting political power.

Unfortunately, he’s correct. The last two days, seeing Chicago teachers strike to maintain the status quo, it is increasingly clear to me that to properly educate a child, one needs to leave Chicago. I guess that’s been clear for a while. It’s unfortunate though. We argue Chicago is a world class city, but the Chicago Teachers Union walked out of the classroom to protect inferior teachers. That’s why Chicago schools offer an inferior product.

Below are my words from last September. They still ring true:

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) for preschool. So after taking time to research schools, tour the schools and send in an application for a three year old, my wife and I will have to write a check 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 cajole children into a slot in a magnet school, 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. My wife and I are frustrated seeking the answers. But until Chicago children are able to walk down the street and get a quality education, I think we have to keep asking why that is not happening.


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  • Hey Brian,
    I'm not sure that this strike is a political grab as suggested, and I certainly have no answer about why Chicago schools have historically been out-performed by any other district you want to compare it to.
    One thing I have learned during this strike is what happened to the raise teachers were due in 2011. It was cancelled because the expired contract allowed the city to take it back !! I'm sure that didn't make the teachers happy !! and was probably still stuck in their "craw."
    However, as a product of Chicago public schools who didn't perform well on standardized tests, I'm not sure that these tests should get more weight than other observable and more objective factors in evaluating teacher performance. (I still managed to complete my bachelors degree at a fairly prestigious university, and become a productive citizen.)
    Status quo or what makes sense ?? You can choose your fruit, but not your students. Wasn't there a study years ago that concluded that standardized tests were skewed in favor of a segment of the population that didn't include inner-city kids (say BLACKs) ?
    Make test scores a fair part of their evaluation. But don't penalize city teachers for having to cope with all types of influences and issues that their kids must endure outside of the classroom.
    My kids went to city public schools and scored better that I did on those standardized tests and were accepted to college.
    I think that what Mr. Mayor Rahm wants to accomplish is a means by which he can rid the budges of seasoned well-educated teachers because they make too much money !!
    However, they don't make as much as Lake Forest teachers who reportedly average over $100k. !!

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