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Dear Mr. Mayor, let's start the the Janice Jackson regime the right way

by CTU officers  |  01/09/2018

January 8, 2018
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
5th Floor, Chicago City Hall
121 N. LaSalle St.
Chicago, IL 60602 

Dear Mr. Mayor,

We write to urge you to start your new CEO of schools off on strong footing both in terms of policy and finances, instead of saddling this new administration with the baggage of previous CEOs’ failed policies. CPS must overhaul a number of practices and policies in your education agenda if Janice Jackson is to be afforded the independence and capacity to pursue a path that will elevate all of our public schools and their students.

First, don’t make your new CEO justify the unthinkable. If you insist on closing the last four public high schools in Englewood, the consequences will be catastrophic for students and their families. There is no such thing as safe passage when you force students to travel through five to eight miles of gang territory to get to school every day. Virtually no one thinks this is a good idea – not even your 2012 school closings commission, which raised this precise threat of mortal danger to our most vulnerable students when the commission rejected high school closings for the 2013 school year. Yet since 2012, instead of investing in these high schools and their students, your school board has slashed the budget of Hope by 55%, Team Englewood by 46% Robeson by 71%, and Harper by a staggering 74% – a strategy designed to undermine instead of support these schools and their students, more than 98% of whom live in poverty. Your current proposal to close all of Englewood’s high schools also dovetails with the lock-out of these current Englewood students from access to a proposed new neighborhood high school.

Stop these attacks on Black families and invest in our schools instead of closing them. Without investing in Englewood’s four neighborhood high schools, you run the risk of telegraphing again to families in communities of color – as you did in 2013 – that the students of these neighborhoods just don’t matter. Families and students of NTA share that conviction after CPS proposed to phase out the school simply to hand over their building to another community. Supporters of Hirsch Metropolitan High School feel the same, after CPS’ unelected School Board voted to co-locate a clout-heavy charter school, a move that will ultimately destroy Hirsch and undermine her neighborhood students. These proposals for closure and co-location are worse in many respects than your mass school closings in 2013, because there is no clearly defined support for the kids who will be forced out of their schools.

Instead, allow your CPS CEO to invest in schools like Harper and Robeson now, so these schools can stabilize, thrive and renew their tradition of providing great educational opportunities for the families whose children rely on good public schools near their homes. Last month, the Chicago Reporter extensively documented the impact that your 2013 round of school closures has had on Black families in the city – forcing students from one highly segregated and unequally funded set of City public schools to suburban school districts that struggle under the same dynamics. The bottom line, backed by hard evidence, is that the 2013 school closings have forced Black families out of the city.

Allow your new CPS CEO to end the attack on Black and veteran educators, who have borne the brunt of the layoffs that your policies of austerity and school privatization have driven. At the heart of the loss of our most seasoned educators of color lies the system of student-based budgeting, a reform that you implemented with dire consequences for our students and their educators. Under SBB, the number of Black teachers in the system has been slashed in half. Principals routinely tell veteran applicants that they would hire them if they could afford them – but they can’t. Experience matters immensely, as does the race of teachers for Black students – particularly low-income Black students, who have lower drop-out rates and higher college attendance rates when they are taught by even one teacher of the same race as them. This powerful dynamic has been most recently documented by the Institute of Labor Economics. Other recent studies – notably the 2016 John Hopkins University study on race biases in teachers’ expectations for students, and the 2014 Center for American Progress study on the consequences of a shortage of teachers of color – also document the critical positive difference that a teacher of color can make in the lives of students of color, particularly poor students. Allow your new CPS CEO to stop staffing schools on the cheap. None of the top-ranking suburban school districts use SBB, a fundamentally inequitable way of financing education that also flies in the face of the state’s new evidence -based school funding formula. Why would CPS persist in this failed policy?

Instead, implement the evidenced-based practices in Illinois’ new school funding formula – an explicit commitment to lower class sizes in early grades; provide adequate access to pre-K and special education services; ensure that librarians, counselors, school nurses and clinicians are staffed at the level of national best practices; and ensure funding that allows schools to hire committed veteran educators – particularly Black educators. CPS has relied instead on education short-timers from Teach For America, barely 30% of whose participants stay on to teach for a third year. While these TFA hires are cheaper to bring on board than veteran Black teachers, many have neither the training nor the disposition to commit to durable public service to our students. Students, parents and community residents want both excellence and stability in staffing for our schools – the hallmarks of strongly performing suburban districts and a proven path forward to creating conditions for success in CPS, in both our cadre of educators and the ranks of top administrators, which in the last seven years have been roiled by chaos and scandal through three previous CPS CEO’s.

State your public support for an Elected Representative School Board. No CEO will ever have legitimacy in this city if they continue to work under the persistent cloud of certitude that they are making decisions on behalf of the Mayor instead of students, families, educators and residents across the City. No taint of scandal will ever be removed from our school system or the mayor’s office as long as the people of this city have no voice in electing those responsible for school governance – and as long as a school board wholly appointed by the mayor is responsible for failures of oversight when school officials are exposed for wrongdoing. It’s long past time that Chicago end its outlier status as a school district that denies its residents this basic right – a right that every other school district in the state has long exercised.

Work with the CTU as partners to build a Sustainable Community School District. For too long in Chicago, the students who need the greatest resources have received the least. Yet even with Illinois’ new evidence-based funding formula, Chicago continues to deny our neediest students in our poorest neighborhoods the supports mandated by the state law. We need to instead ramp up investment in the schools that serve the communities with the highest unemployment, poverty and homelessness, and the inevitable violence that these conditions drive. Nothing short of massive investments in wrap-around supports, culturally relevant curricula, community outreach and programming will alter these inequities. The CTU and the City agreed in our 2015 contract to pilot the sustainable community schools model by providing twenty schools with pivotal supports to bring them into sustainable community schools standards. Yet today, this endeavor remains mired in CPS’s bureaucratic red tape. Help us unleash this initiative with the appropriate resources, attention and system-wide implementation this initiative deserves by making a public commitment to sustainable community schools – and backing up this commitment with real dollars. To do any less is to consign hundreds of thousands of low-income students of color to a continuing chronic lack of resources that undermines their success as students and their prospects as adults to live productive, fulfilling lives.

We remind you that CPS is scheduled to receive a windfall of roughly $220 million in ten days -- three months early this year. Some of those funds could be redirected to neighborhood public schools desperately short of funds in the wake of more than $400 million in cuts that your top CPS executives and board have baked into CPS' budget over the last three years. Redirect those funds to the schools that most desperately need them – including Hirsch and Englewood's neighborhood public high schools -- and more broadly into desperately needed trauma services for our students, into bringing Chicago into compliance with the state's new funding formula, and into the growing groundswell of support to make our entire school district a sustainable community school district.

Take immediate steps to remedy burgeoning problems with GoCPS. Under student-based budgeting, where funding is tied to enrollment, GoCPS is totally untenable, becoming a tool to drive down enrollment further in neighborhood public schools while claiming rhetorically that collapsing enrollment in these schools is “choice”. We must, instead, move to a system where we’re funding all schools fairly.

CPS rolled out GoCPS as a “streamlined” high school application process without creating a level playing field for the neighborhood schools vying for students to enroll. Neighborhood high schools have suffered profound budget cuts and have widely varying capacities at marketing – capacities which are significantly reduced at chronically underfunded neighborhood high schools. Under the current funding structure, students and parents are not able to choose schools in a fair system where all high schools have been invested in adequately and able to share what makes them great with prospective students and their parents. CPS has instead left it entirely up to schools to figure out their own marketing strategies even as those same schools have lost more librarians, clinician services, art and music teachers, and more.

Parents and students both want and deserve a streamlined process to apply to high schools. However, the system in place has had serious glitches – including the reality that counselors have been hampered in their ability to help students navigate the process due to limited training and a lack of detailed information about how the “single best match” will be made. CPS appears to have focused instead on marketing the system, rather than ensuring that students, parents, and counselors have a deep and rich understanding of the algorithm that will be used to match them to a school. The system is internet-based, and while there is supposed to be a paper back-up system, we’ve heard concerns from parents about the efficacy of the site (including lost data) and we’re deeply concerned about access for those who have limited internet access. 

GoCPS also dovetails with CPS’ flawed “choice model”, which sets up a limited number of well-resourced magnet schools and a large number of charter schools – an approach that has, in combination with student-based budgeting, contributed to the destabilization of Chicago’s Black and Latinx neighborhoods, driven families from Chicago, and left many neighborhood schools starved of resources and struggling to offer students a quality curriculum.

We can do better. We must do better. Our city’s children deserve better. You can make it possible. We’re happy to meet with you and your new CPS CEO to discuss these proposals at your earliest convenience.

Jesse Sharkey, Vice President
Michael E. Brunson, Recording Secretary
Maria T. Moreno, Financial Secretary

Chicago Teachers Union