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Mayor’s Education Target, Misses the Mark

CHICAGO - This past Friday, March 23rd, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the expansion of International Baccalaureate (IB) programs in the Chicago Public Schools. Prior to that he announced ties to private/public partnerships to encourage more science, engineering and technology between city high schools, community colleges and the business community.  

All of the suggestions, at first glance, appear to be useful and good for students, but upon further review, exhibit a tendency by this Mayor to make big announcements after controversy (such as when he decided to close and “turn around” all 17 schools slated for school action despite unprecedented opposition), or when a new study is released (in this case from the Chicago Consortium on School Research about IB programs). No one can contest the Mayor's desire to seize upon good news to try and improve our schools, but in his haste to see instant improvement and to isolate his critics, the CPS administration is exacerbating many of the problems that have plagued school reform for over a decade.

For instance, his proposal on expanding IB programs in the city calls for attracting more white middle class families back into the city schools with his admonishment “don't head …. for the suburbs – because the city of Chicago is going to give you a high quality life with high quality education for your children.” Through that statement Emanuel lays out a policy that undermines the very research he references which shows that neighborhood schools are helping black and Latino youth succeed in college because they have access to IB programs. Now he has proposed to restrict access to the new programs by imposing an admission requirement. The Mayor is taking away resources from neighborhood students and giving them to those who will get selected in the new IB program.

Finally, while the Mayor is willing to comment on virtually every new idea regarding education he has been conspicuously silent in reference to the Chicago Teachers Union’s blueprint for school improvement, “The Schools Chicago Students Deserve.”

Perhaps his silence is related to the very difficult task of fully funding our schools after generations of institutional neglect and failed policies. For instance, the Union points out that 40 percent of schools do not have full time art or music teachers; that we have the fifth highest class sizes in the state; and that, of the nation's largest cities we rank 10th in the nurse-to-pupil ratio. That is only the beginning, nearly 160 of our schools are without libraries or librarians, and staffing levels for a plethora of critical positions like counselors and school psychologists are woefully inadequate.

In addition, the Mayor has imposed a 90 minute longer day without any guarantees of providing the supports necessary to make for a better day. In fact, there are clear signs that the quality of the school day will deteriorate as a result of the 7.5 hour day. Schools across the system are indicating they will have to cut art and music positions due to the additional staffing needs for administering recess. Also, despite the fact that teachers in the United States already teach more instructional minutes and receive less time to plan their lessons than practically any other advanced industrialized nation in the world, the longer day actually decreases the overall amount of planning time for teachers, while increasing their workload by more than 20 percent.

While the Mayor's office has lambasted the status-quo of our city schools, he has largely continued the failed policies of his predecessor in closing and “turning around” schools without addressing the larger systemic problem of underfunding. He has also continued the tendency to promote a moving target of ineffective reforms that are imposed upon students, teachers and parents without their input or consent. Until we address the ways that schools have been undemocratically administered, undermined and sabotaged over many years, we will not produce the kind of change that our students need and deserve. We look forward to comprehensively debating and discussing the merits and pitfalls of the many ideas that seek to advance a world class education in our city.

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The Chicago Teachers Union represents 30,000 teachers and educational support personnel working in the Chicago Public Schools and, by extension, the students and families they serve. CTU, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Federation of Teachers, is the third largest teachers local in the country and the largest local union in Illinois. For more information visit CTU’s website at www.ctunet.com.

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Chicago Teachers Union