As a former inner-city high school teacher, I must adamantly disagree with the Chicago Teachers Union’s choice to block over 350,000 students from their classrooms for an entire 7 day period. Their action was not an acceptable means to a student centered end – especially when 79 percent of those students are meeting the mark.
I understand teachers deserve rights and believe those who raise student achievement should earn a higher salary. Educators are among the most important employees in the United States – they literally have the ability to build a better country one child at a time.
But when, according to the Department of Education, 79 percent of Chicago Public School eighth graders are not proficient in reading, barring them from their schools was an action beneath educators and a choice that was counterproductive to students – 80 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch. When only 21 percent of Chicago’s public school students can read at grade level, special interest groups should have chosen to use their treasure and influence to positively impact the educational landscape for students, not protest accountability measures.
Having witnessed 10th graders who could not solve simple math problems, mentored a senior who had to choose between raising a child and going to college and teaching a sophomore who was passed from grade to grade even though by age six 16 he was unable to properly use a period, I firmly believe the stakes are too high for such valuable classroom time to be forfeited at the hands of special interest.
The End Result: Two Steps Forward and One Step Backward
As 350,000 pencils begin to sharpen once again throughout Chicago Public Schools, the deal struck between CTU and leaders of CPS will undoubtedly put Chicago further into debt. The city cannot afford the pay raises and pensions it has promised. Unfortunately, the same students the CTU claimed they were striking for – including the 79 percent who cannot proficiently read – will grow into adulthood burdened with paying of this debt.
Though at a great economic cost, certain wins for student centered leaders in the newly minted CPS contract have the potential to be a step forward for the district’s students. The greatest progress can be noted in a portion of teacher evaluations now being tied to student performance and an erosion of the unfair and crippling power of tenure in the Chicago Public School system.
Holding educators accountable is a necessary step forward if our Nation is to compete globally in the coming years. Accountability works. Being guaranteed a seat at the teacher’s desk without regard for how one’s students are performing does not. The same model can also be seen in any successful business, non-profit, organization or team.
I witnessed the harmful effects of void accountability. It was once called the “soft bigotry of low-expectations” but when you see countless children negatively affected by striking low expectations, the bigotry becomes pretty loud.
Adding to the significance of accountability is its giving principals more autonomy in staffing decisions. Being able to inform staffing decisions through measures of student achievement, school leaders will be empowered to create the cultures of achievement necessary to turn around a failing.
Unfortunately, this progress for in-need students is lessened by the fact CPS principals will now be forced to hire from a new pool of candidates, half of whom were previously laid off from the Chicago Public School district. Completely illogical, this regulation minimizes the power of school leaders to effectively recruit, develop and empower a staff focused on preparing students for college or a good job. Imagine a coach forced to recruit from players who were already cut from the team. It does not happen, because it does not make sense. But successful organizations are not plagued with the illogical demands of special interest. Stinting student centered progress; it was within this regulation, that CPS took two steps forward and one step backward.
The results of the strike will be heavily studied and forcefully spun in the coming weeks. What will remain undeniable, however, is that a public education that does not focus 100 percent on student achievement is flawed. Too many kids grow-up unprepared, under served and unattended to. It is the gravest social injustice of our time and a much more logical cause for protest than what was recently seen in the streets of Chicago.
We must demand a better education for our Nation’s children. We must put their needs over special interests. We must stand with the 79 percent.
Follow Patrick on Twitter @PatrickKobler