For a third straight day, Chicago’s public school teachers (members of the Chicago Teachers Union) will be on strike to protest the direction that Chicago’s school system is headed. The CTU and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are at odds on a handful of issues, leaving 350,000 students unable to attend school. The catch is, however, that even if they were in school, they might not have books, they’d likely be in classrooms of 40 or more, and they’d be receiving roughly one third of the funding that students in the suburbs receive.
At stake is the future of education in Chicago, a city whose school system has been labeled as failing.
Perhaps the best way to tell that there is something wrong in Chicago is to look at what everyday life is like for students in public school there. Think Progress recently did this and found that students have shorter days, lower test scores, and little to no arts or music education. Some high/lowlights include:
33 percent of Chicago’s children were in poverty in 2010, versus a rate of 20 percent for Illinois children as a whole; 80 percent of Chicago students qualify for free or reduced lunches.
Chicago has a shorter school day than the national average for elementary schools, at five hours forty-five minutes (though secondary school days in the district are slightly longer than the national average). Many Chicago students are in class for 10 days less than the national average of 180 days.
Chicago scores lower than other big cities on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, with just 20 percent of students performing at “proficient” levels in 2011. 60 percent of students performed at “basic” levels.
According to CTU, 42 percent of Chicago’s elementary schools lack full funding for arts and music teachers, even though the Dept. of Education called arts and music education “particularly beneficial for students from economically disadvantaged circumstances and those who are at risk of not succeeding in school.”
What’s worse for Chicago’s teachers is that even if they can make curriculum changes needed to right the ship, many of the buildings they teach in are literally falling down around them.
Many of Chicago’s lowest-performing schools are crumbling, but Chicago Public Schools acknowledged last year that it won’t invest in improvement projects for schools it expects to be closed in the next five to 10 years, instead focusing on other schools, including those that share facilities with charter schools.
With the odds against the students in Chicago it is all most unfathomable that Mayor Rahm Emanuel would refuse to negotiate a fair contract for the men and women in charge of doing so much with so little. According to Mike Elk, the strike represents the need to oppose a “corporate reform agenda” in education:
But at its heart, the strike is over the union’s deep opposition to what it calls a “corporate reform agenda” that pursues a competitive or punitive relationship with teachers, rather than a collaborative one. Examples include blaming teachers and unions for educational shortcomings, promoting private but publicly financed charter schools, focusing on high-stakes tests and tying pay to merit.
CTU has instead pushed for smaller classes, enriched curriculum, better supplies and facilities, fairer and fuller funding (including the return of some public revenue long diverted into “TIFs” to subsidize developers), more counselors and support staff, respect for teacher professionalism, and a bigger say for teachers in their schools.
A poll released yesterday found that 47% of registered voters support striking teachers while 39% oppose the action. This is quite encouraging considering outlets like the Washington Post are beating on the union from afar. Respondents had low opinions of Mayor Emanuel’s handling of the strike with only 6% ranking it as excellent and 13% calling it “good.”
The situation is unquestionably a bellwether for the future of the American education system and how we as a nation will go about developing it fairly. Perhaps the best thing to come from this strike, no matter how it ends, is that despite the varying views on how to accomplish it, it is very clear that Americans want education reform sooner than later.
Today, worker-supportive social media users are asked to wear red and post pictures to their networks. Here’s ours…