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Not picking sides: a parent’s view on the strike

I was really hoping that my daughter would be back in school Monday. She misses her new teacher (and I miss and love the teachers at our neighborhood school, too). Am I disappointed? Yes.

Monday morning, a parent friend from another state asked me, “Whose side are you on?” and frankly, I couldn’t answer the question with just a few words. As many parents who are personally familiar with Chicago Public Schools cannot.

The reality of parent support is complicated and isn’t as simple as “I support Rahm and the Board! No, I support the CTU!” I do not support either the CTU or the CPS Board on every issue.

My longer answer on this (and I know that many parents are dealing with the same issues) is here. For example, as a regular CPS neighborhood school parent, I . . .

† Support our school’s teachers,

† Want manageable class sizes (even NYC and Boston have kept elementary class sizes under 28 students, many times under 25 students per classroom. We have Kindergartens and First Grades with over 40 kids in them . . . OVER FORTY FIRST GRADERS)

† Want the District to be more honest/transparent about how our tax dollars are being spent in the charter schools (Right now, this is hidden from us. Believe me, I have looked EVERYWHERE for this information. How our tax dollars are spent in charters is not published, and how national organizations are supplementing this funding is not published. The supplemental funding is concerning to me, because that is not a guarantee forever and I wonder who will pick up the tab for those schools once it goes away.

† Do NOT want even more funding pulled from neighborhood schools to be given to charters and selective enrollment schools (where a very small percentage of CPS students qualify for enrollment). Those schools, because they can control enrollment and mobility, already have the advantages that neighborhood schools do not.

† Do not want our kids sweltering or freezing in classrooms.

† Want more CPS parent neighborhood school representation on the school board.

† Do not want to see art, music, recess, and lunch erased from the schools.

AT THE VERY SAME TIME, I am a parent who:

† Wants my kids to be in school.

† Does not want principals to be forced to hire sub-par teachers from recall pools. (And not all teachers from closed schools are sub-par, just as not all teachers from open schools are excellent.)

† Does not want a financially unsustainable pension plan model (right now more money is paid out than is contributed, partly because of poor funding practices and partly because investments of funds targets in order to make the plan viable were not realistic).

† Wants more instructional hours for my kids.

† Supports a reasonable funding model for the District.

And then there are the constraints. The realities we face as parents and citizens include:

† A District funding model where a lot of money is spent at the central office level, but we are not able to give input on how our money is spent there, given detailed information on the value added for that money, etc. CPS has framed their spending at this level as having been reduced, but at first glance, it looks to have just been shifted around on the budgets from either one department to another.

† A state that is last . . . dead last . . . in the nation for funding public education. This is an enormous problem and says much about our priorities as a state. It is not that Illinois is flush with cash, but it has chosen to invest in other things over the years instead of education. Our priorities are so very unbalanced. That we are behind every other state, yet we have one of the third largest cities in the country residing in our state blows my mind. It’s embarrassing to us as a state.

† That tying a majority of teacher evaluations to student test scores is unreasonable. The enormous disparities within our own district (Teacher A at Christopher Elementary school with a 21 percent truancy rate, 88 percent poverty rate, 67 percent special ed students, and 28 percent English Language Learners is not going to get the same results as Teacher B at Edgebrook Elementary with a 2 percent truancy rate, 10 percent poverty rate, 13 percent special ed students, and 1 percent English Language Learners. Those stats are real and from the 2011-2012 school year.)

† However, there needs to be SOME way of evaluating teachers. That poorly performing teachers are allowed to stay in front of the classrooms for as long as they do is unacceptable.

† The fact that the City of Chicago has to fund the pensions of all of its teachers AND contribute to the pensions of every other district in Illinois is unfair and unreasonable to Chicago taxpayers and slashes into our budgets. This needs to change.

† It is very, very difficult for CPS schools to recruit teachers to many schools within the district. Working conditions are unreasonable at many schools even with the current teacher’s pay model (which is excellent when adjusted for the cost of living and compared to New York, DC, Boston, Los Angeles and other major cities. But is closer to average when you factor in the class sizes that we have to deal with here, though not every teacher is affected by the class size issue at every school.)

† This City administration and this board, in their words and actions, have been extremely disrespectful to parents and teachers. This trust will be difficult to regain.

† The long history of broken promises by the City and the board (under previous administrations) has set up a culture of suspicion and distrust that is making this entire process more unwieldy, inefficient and difficult.

I could go on for a lot longer, but you get my point. It’s complicated. And neither the CTU nor CPS is going to make it simpler for CPS parents to understand the complications that we face in Chicago Public Schools.

So who will?

We have to. No one is going to do this for us. Parents need to push for the redesign of how public school is done in Chicago.

It cannot be outsourced to the Board or the CTU. It cannot be outsourced to the for-profit or not-for-profit charter organizations.

Join your Local School Council. Join groups like Raise Your Hand. Get involved with the educational committees of organizations such as the North River Commission. This is the best civics lesson you will ever give to your children.

Jeanne Marie Olson is a CPS parent with a 1st grader at a CPS neighborhood school and an Pre-K student who aspires to be a CPS student. She is a part-time lecturer in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern University and a member of the National Council for Design for America, an award-winning nationwide network of interdisciplinary student teams and community members using design to create local and social impact.



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