With All Due Respect

Parents, children and taxpayers won a small but important victory late last week when the Chicago School Board announced it would close three “chronically failing” public elementary schools.

Make no mistake about it this was not a case of an overly rigid school board imposing rigorous standards. The performance of these schools was abysmal. At all three targeted schools, less than 15 percent of the students were reading at national norms last year, and less than 17 percent of the students performed to their grade level on state tests. Almost 85 percent of the students were below their own grade level in basic reading skills. Is there another definition of complete failure?

Each school is operating at less than 50 percent capacity, so overcrowding is definitely not the issue. Each school has been warned and given extra financial assistance to fix the problem. In fact, over the past six years, while on probation, these schools received an extra $18 million in aid. Nonetheless, the problems remain.

I applaud the Chicago School Board for acting, but action should have come sooner and more Chicago schools should have been on the list. But in fairness, the Board faces a major political obstacle – the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). Believe it not, the CTU angrily opposed the decision by the school board to give the parents and children of these failing schools a shot at a decent education. The CTU president Deborah Lynch said she felt “blind-sided and betrayed.”

With all due respect, “blind-sided and betrayed?” Let’s start with blind-sided. These schools have been warned for six years. How long should taxpayers continue financing failure before the teachers’ union does not feel “blind-sided” by the demand for results? Betrayed? For at least six years, the School Board and the teacher’s union have joined together and betrayed the parents and children attending these failing schools. These kids have been denied the opportunity to advance because these schools quite clearly have not performed. .

It is important to point out that it is extremely unlikely that the teachers in these schools will actually lose their jobs. Chicago, like most major cities faces a teacher shortage, and union rules require the school system to place these teachers first. What might happen is that the principals and other administrators could lose their jobs. And that is exactly what the CTU will fight most vigorously. They won’t fight for kids. They won’t fight for needed reforms. The teachers’ unions’ today fight for school administrators. It is sad, but true.

The teachers unions, unfortunately, yield tremendous clout. Already in this election cycle, they have contributed $1.1 million in soft money to the political parties. The majority — 96 percent — has gone to the Democrat Party. The union contributed another $750,000 in hard PAC dollars — with well over 95 percent going to Democrats. This, of course, does not count the much larger in-kind contributions of mailings, phone banks, and independent expenditures provided by teachers’ unions each election cycle. It is truly impressive stuff.

For parents, teachers, taxpayers, and elected officials who want to give our kids a better chance, we know what we’re up against: A union dedicated to its own narrow economic interest over everything else, including a decent and fair education for our children.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t fight back. We need to send letters of support to the Chicago School Board – even if you’re not from Chicago. These elected officials need to know that people care and will back them up when they do the right thing. You can send a quick note of thanks to:

Chicago Public Schools

125 South Clark Street

Chicago, IL 60603

Or call 773-553-1620.

We can fix our schools – but it won’t happen unless we’re willing to get involved and get active.

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